What to do when you are buried in papers to grade

Woe are we!

Across the nation, high school teachers are collectively wringing their hands. This time it’s not over any curriculum-distorting policy or suffocating shortfall of funds. We are in the heart of midterm exam season, and teachers are swamped.

I understand the indispensable value of scrutinizing student work— but grading a stack of sixty-six midterms in a weekend is just downright painful. Each six-section test takes about fifteen minutes to read carefully, annotate, and score.  That’s 16.5 hours with no breaks.

When I was a student teacher at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, I worked with teachers who carried five classes maxed out at 34 students apiece. With 170 kids, even assigning essays felt prohibitive. Putting 15 minutes into each student’s exam equals 42.5 hours of grading— with no breaks or pauses to scream included in the calculation.

According to NEA research publishing in The American Public School Teacher: Past, Present, and Future, heavy workload is the most frequently cited by teachers as the top hindrance to quality teaching.

So how to get through it? I wish I had some brilliant organizational strategy to share. My best tip is to just get started. Eyeing the stack without tackling it can bring on paralysis. Breaking through those first few papers— before late Sunday night— is key.

There’s a silver lining in grading dread; I’m extra-productive elsewhere. To duck the exams, I’ve run long-delayed errands, cleaned the office, put together a photobook, fired off overdue email, and now I’m writing this blog…

Back to the stack for me.

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