The Chinese Fire Drill

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Dark Underbelly of Grading

Orginally Written: October 2010

We just finished the first quarter of our school year, and here's an example of the numbers I have to deal with every year:

I have 69 "Regular" English students (again...I don't even know what "Regular" means).
Of their grades for the quarter, FIVE of them were significant or meaningful or major.
On average, it takes me 51 minutes to grade all five assignments for just ONE student.
So...51 minutes multiplied by 69 students equals 58.6 hours of grading per quarter.
All of this grading SHOULD be done outside of class instruction time.

I have eleven Honors students and another 50 AP students.
If I apply the same formula to those two groups, I'm adding another 122.9 hours of grading for the quarter.

So what?

Here's what matters:

Combined, I'm looking at 181.5 hours of grading for the 9-week grading quarter, all of it presumably outside the confines of my stipulated instruction/class time.

So, let's break this down: 181.5 hours divided by 9 weeks equals 20.16 hours of grading per week.  If we divide that by 7 days, we're at 2 hours and 53 minutes of grading every day, seven days a week...all of this OUTSIDE the regular teaching time.

I teach six classes in a row, five days a week, one after another after another.  How many ad executives, bankers, marketing executives, or other business people can and do plan six meetings every day, in a row, in front of uncooperative, potentially hostile crowds?  How many of these executives would do well?  How many would eventually decide "Screw this" and start cutting corners?

Two hours and 53 minutes every night, plus planning for classes (and running said classes during the day) is a great deal to ask of any teacher, but that's what we do, and what do we get as a result?  Pay attention to the work your children bring home.  How much of it appears to be "busywork"?  How much of it looks like it could be graded in a heartbeat without much additional thought or effort? How seriously do your children take the work, and (much more importantly) how much do they really learn from it?  Compare this to the type of work your college-age children must complete (their teachers have more time during the work week to plan and grade than high school teachers do).

I choose to assign essays and papers which are time-consuming to grade, and provide me, as a teacher, with no viable options in terms of short cuts.  The only way to grade an essay appropriately is to read it (all of it), and then correct/comment on it line by line, word by word.  This takes time, especially given the fact that most of my students are not very good writers.  Have I cut corners?  At times, yes...not because I wish to but because the laws of biology (I have to sleep and eat and mentally shut down for a while) dictate that I must do so in order to survive.  For now, I'm opting to continue to try grading the "right" way, and I'm working on every single paper as carefully as a I can (for the record, I perform better in the fall and winter and struggle to keep up with the workload in the late winter and spring).  Does the public currently appreciate the fact that some of us are trying to grade the "right" way? No.  The public only cares that I get my grades posted in time for report cards.  They're not the least bit interested in what I'm actually writing/saying/correcting on my students' papers.  Do most parents understand that we're trying to do this the "right" way? Some do.  Many don't.  Those who don't just want to know if their children have passed, where their GPA and class rank stands, and what that will mean in terms of college acceptance.

I do my job the right way because that matters to me.  I do it the right way because my students tell me that they learn from it, and that it makes them better writers.  But, if I wanted to start short-cutting right now, I could.  Not only that, the public as a whole would be happier...yes, happier...with me because I'd be getting things done more quickly and getting my grades posted on the computer in a more timely fashion.

There's something wrong with a system that punishes teachers who try to do the right thing and actually encourages them to cut corners and treat teaching and grading like an assembly line process.  But that's what's happening in every school, in every state.

But, based on the story the media and several governors have been telling, how would anyone know?

1 comment:

Gabrielle Poshadlo said...

I decided to pursue a writing career as a direct result of what I learned from my English teachers (high school ones, mind you).

After reading this post it occurred to me how little free time Ms. Maudlin and Mr. Chisnell must have had because their grading techniques were meticulous.

Thanks to their guidance my path became very clear, which is the effect (I think) most teachers hope to have on their students.

I suppose all this is to say, keep fighting the good fight. Maybe the reward to all your good work isn't immediately obvious, but when one alumnus emails you their first published work, hopefully all those grading hours will seem really worth it.

When my photo appeared on the contributors page of a regional magazine, one of my teachers (Miss Whalin--she and I had many discussions about The Great Gatsby and The Scarlet Letter) sent me an email telling me how proud she was.
She'd seen the magazine in her doctor's waiting room.

She told me it made her day, to know I'd kept with the whole writing thing. It made mine to hear that.