It can be a lonely world for an English teacher. While many of my colleagues can manage a two or three day turnaround on homework, I struggle and fight and work late nights to maintain a two or three week turnaround. The inbox piles up higher and higher each day, and many evenings and weekends are spent on this mindnumbing and utterly unrewarding task–akin to digging holes in soft sand. You can dig and dig and dig all day, sweating and toiling and burning for endless hours in the hot sun without making any visible progress.
Grading English papers also happens to be maddeningly subjective, despite the most detailed rubrics. Personal feelings must be put aside as you simultaneously try to grade ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, and every little grammatical or spelling error in the entire paper. And then there are the comments. After all, you’re not just assigning a letter; you’re also trying to teach writing as you grade, leaving helpful feedback (just the right balance of honest encouragement and constructive criticism, mind you!) that students will theoretically understand, take to heart, and apply with diligence to their next paper.
Oh, and you have to watch your mood as well. It doesn’t matter how you feel when you’re grading a multiple choice test. You could be about ready to take a baseball bat to your china cabinet and smash up 12 place settings of Noritake; it won’t affect the student’s grade. But it you start to feel cranky grading papers, there’s no hunkering down and powering through until you reach the end of the stack. You have to step away until sanity’s circulation is gradually restored to your cramped and ailing brain.
One of my fellow high school English teachers wrote in her blog about the “Catch-22” of teaching English: you feel that if you give one more major assignment, it will be the last nail in your coffin. But you also feel the push from the parents, administration, and the Jiminy Cricket of your own conscience to assign lots and lots of detailed, complex writing assignments in order to provide the highest possible standard of education.
I confess that I am in Pennsylvania for the next two weeks and I did not bring a single scrap of work with me. I plan to spend my time visiting with family, blogging, baking Christmas cookies, and playing word games. I have a huge pile of papers waiting for me when I get home–comp exams, honors comp exams, literary analysis papers, American Lit exams, Brit Lit exams. I felt like one of those circus guys who spins a bunch of plates simultaneously; I about killed myself trying to get everything done before Christmas break. And then I thought, you know what? Sometimes, as hard as you try, you just have to let all the plates come crashing down. You have to be human. You have to be normal. You have to be okay with not always achieving absolute perfection. Some people might choose to think of crashing plates as a disaster. You just need to choose to think of it as a Greek party. OPA!!