Thursday, September 25, 2008

Teaching Journal 08-09
Day 14, September 25

With the 8th and 9th grade scholars out of town on class trips, I’ve spent the last two days grading essays in my classroom and substituting for various teachers -- and today I had a surprisingly peaceful adventure “teaching” a second-grade art class. I called for the students at their classroom and the little people dutifully and quietly followed me on the long trek to the art room. When we arrived, they went right to the table and sat calmly while I explained their regular teacher’s instructions. There was some chatter now and then, but as soon as I passed out the drawing paper and pencils, the room quickly subsided into almost total silence. I was no longer nervous about my new role as a second-grade teacher. I felt completely relaxed as I watched them work with seeming tranquility on their sketches. There was barely a sound in the room -- only the soft scratch of pencils on paper.

Yesterday I took a very small step which seems already to be creating a rather large change in my approach to grading student essays. I decided to use a kitchen timer while grading, and I chose to set the timer for a fairly large number of minutes for each essay. I think I was looking for a way to make reading student papers more enjoyable – more relaxing, mainly. I have always felt somewhat stressed and tense when I’m grading writing, and I’ve had the feeling it’s because of the pressure of time – so I thought using a timer set at the number of minutes it might take to evaluate an essay in a completely relaxed yet thorough manner might ameliorate the situation. What I’ve discovered, happily, is that it seems to have thoroughly transformed the situation. I’ve graded twenty-two 9th grade essays in the last two days, using the timer and spending a good amount of minutes on each paper, and it’s been one of the most satisfying grading experiences of my career. With the timer ticking beside me, I had the feeling that there was plenty of time. I knew that the length of time I had set on the timer gave me way more time than I probably actually needed, so I relaxed, worked slowly, and thoroughly enjoyed reading the students’ hard won sentences and paragraphs. The ticking of the timer seemed more like a peaceful stream passing by than a steady clicking away of the minutes. I knew there was ample time, so I took it – and took pleasure in it.

Of course, this means I will be spending even more time grading papers than in the past. I receive an average of 41 formal papers each week (usually 4 or 5 paragraph essays), so spending more minutes on each paper means that, together with classroom teaching and planning, a huge chunk of my week will be taken up with my teaching duties. However, when I factor in how many waking hours I have each week -- about 110 – I realize that I will still have many, many hours of free time -- way more than the great majority of people on earth. In fact, my teaching work usually seems like “free time” to me, so I guess I’m living a fairly free life most of the week. Lucky me.


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