Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Annual Countdown

Although I have been too busy (Imagine that!) to officially keep track of how many days are left in this unremitting school year, I am all too aware that I have far too much work left to do and much to little time left to do it. I have spent more time than is healthy bent over my desk, cross-legged on the couch, or stretched out on the floor, grading papers. I have been the last one out of the school, save for the janitors, too many times to count. Usually at this point in the year, during final exams, I have nothing left to do but clear away the clutter, throw away the useless, and file away the meaningful. I am usually so busy being self-reflective that I find grading final exams a nuisance (honestly though, what teacher doesn't?)

This year, I have not even started grading my final exams yet, because thanks to numerous snow days and Nor'Easters, I am still digging out from under the pile of papers and projects that were dumped on my desk two weeks ago. So I have no luxury of reflecting on what worked and what didn't, no time to figure out what was meaningful, revise the lessons that could be more so, or get rid of what doesn't work. In fact, this year, I still have plastic crates full of CAPT tests and old projects and handouts squatting under my desk, not worthy of a permanent home but important enough that they need to stay. I refuse to add up the number of hours I have spent grading final projects and essays (not that I have the time to figure it out, anyway) because I think I would drink myself to next Tuesday if I knew. A friend said to me last week, maybe if you knew how many hours of work you had left, you could plan out how much you need to do every day until the due date (i.e. The Day Grades Are Due).

Sadly, one of the most unfortunate things about teaching (for me, anyway) is that I cannot do just that: manage my grading time. I must steal minutes and hours not when they are convenient, but when they are available. I'm not proud of this, but now that my daughter is a little older (and obsessed with Disney princesses), I can get a solid 90 minutes of grading done on Saturday and Sunday mornings or after school on a rainy (oh, who am I kidding--even on a sunny, gorgeous, we-should-be-outside-loving-nature) afternoon. This is compounded by my inability to "know" how long it takes me to grade one paper, portfolio, or class set of homework. It's always different, and it's not like I can say to myself: I have 30 minutes and 24 one-page essays; therefore, I can spend one minute reading each essay and six minutes entering grades in the gradebook. The problem is, those essays are an extension of my students, and my students are sensitive human beings (try as they might to act like they're not--they're fifteen- and sixteen-year-olds). So I have to think (somewhat) carefully about the grade I give the essay, relative to the person's past achievements, perceived effort, and, obviously, my expectations. It's not a science. I wouldn't deign to call teaching an art...but it's not a science.

Summer is usually my time to refresh, renew, rest, and yes, plan for the following year. I'll be honest, though: the last two weeks of the school year are usually when I do my best planning for the future. Once I leave the building, it's like I've got amnesia. Try as I might to remember how I taught something or what I taught, my brain insists on producing nothing more than static. This summer, I am charged with running a committee of 10th grade teachers who need to draft a curriculum revision that all of us can live with. Normally, this kind of project thrills me. I love curriculum. I love planning. I love knowing exactly what I should be teaching my students (at least, in an ideal world). This year, though, I am done. D-O-N-E. Done. My brain is fried, my body is worn out, and my daughter misses me. No matter what work I manage to accomplish this summer with regard to teaching, I know this: it will not be done with time stolen from my daughter, my husband, or myself.

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