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The Teacher Life: Grading Papers Over Holiday Break

November 24, 2018

Like many teachers across these United States, I am finishing a holiday week, which means I was off from school– technically.

It is true that I did not need to report to school this week. However, a notable part of Teacher Life is that school clings to the teacher whether said teacher is on school grounds or no.

On November 5th, I collected from my senior English students 107 formal essays on one of three fiction works of their choice (Silas Marner, Pygmalion, or Till We Have Faces).

I began grading them that very day, just a few as my school day allowed.

The entire lot followed me home. On Election Day (November 6th), a holiday from school, I graded roughly another 18 or so as I marathon-watched election results roll in.

The next day, Wednesday, I graded a few papers during the day– about six. Same for Thursday during the day, but Thursday night, I graded about ten more.

Of course, the weekend was my major opportunity to hit is hard, which I did Saturday and Sunday to the tune of perhaps another 25 papers.

All of this effort meant that I began the week prior to Thanksgiving break with about 38 papers to go. I knew realistically that I would not finish grading all before Thanksgiving, and I told my students so because they were asking about the grades (with the first one to ask the day after I collected the 107 papers), and I had begun to hold individual conferences with students about their papers.

But I could not get it all finished prior to break, and I knew it.

At the time that school let out on the Friday before Thanksgiving, I had only six papers left.

I left them in my living room as I went on vacation to visit friends in Georgia. And when I returned home on the day before Thanksgiving, there they were, right where I had left them: six more ungraded essays.

Now, you might think that after grading 101 of those essays, six hardly presented an issue, but I assure you that wasn’t so.

It was more difficult for me to face those remaining six than it was for me to begin tackling the 107. My mind was still on vacation. But I had to bring my mind back and get those six papers done.

And I knew that as much as I did not feel like grading six more papers, I surely did not feel like facing six more papers Sunday evening.

So, on Wednesday evening, after driving home from Georgia, after unpacking my car and getting laundry started, I graded one essay, then another, then a third.

Three to go.

The day after Thanksgiving, after mostly decorating my home for Christmas, I rallied myself for one more. And another.

That brings me to today, Saturday.

The last one.



(Note to interested parties: I intentionally assigned nothing to my students over break so that they might enjoy their holiday.)



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Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

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  1. Eric Gidseg, Ph.D. permalink

    We fellow educators feel your pain as well as your relief. I’d like to add that even those of us teaching five and six year olds carry our work and indeed our children with us well beyond our time in the classroom. This is one of the exceptional things about our profession. And, of course, this is not recognized by most outside of the profession. Thank you for shining a light on the dedication needed to succeed as an educator.

  2. Jack permalink

    You’re doing The Lord’s Work, and don’t ever forget that.

  3. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    A really wonderful account of the difficulty in meeting personal and professional obligations. Some techy is cetain to recommend grading by a computer as “good enough.” Lucky students. They should read this post.

  4. Hey, that’s what you get paid the big bucks for, eh!

  5. Sal G. permalink

    The only time my dear now-departed father ever really yelled at me was when I brought home everything my yearbook staff hadn’t finished over my Christmas “vacation.” I held up our family Christmas dinner because I refused to stop working on that stupid thing. I cannot tell you how much I regret this and other similar decisions I made in my career.

  6. Even from the beginning of my teaching career, over two decades ago, I was always in favor of school choice and homeschooling. Friends and coworkers might have asked “Why?” After all, we were working towards careers. We wanted the best pay and retirement possible. And with supposed union protections.
    In think my attitudes were in part due to my own experiences as a student, for I knew better information existed which was not provided to me. I pondered why my science classes were not more profound and labs more creative. Somehow, with time, I gathered I was not getting the education that time had provided, which was probably why I poured through children’s’ encyclopedias, medical dictionaries, and was easily distracted in school.
    A business law class was greatly enjoyable. We learned about the legal system, watching Judge Wapner at times, and understood the underpinnings of rules and regulations, even the system. This class, along with art, welding, and auto mechanics, showed me a world I was not being provided. And I wanted to learn, not thinking in that fashion, but I knew many classes were boring. Shouldn’t learning be interesting? Not always, of course. But in essence. That’s why I started writing about my experiences, and later, started a blog.
    I also knew my attitudes for formed in part due to working in “the real world.” Having worked in businesses, I saw the practical application of understanding. And working in a few summer camps, where I saw how quickly our youth learn, without all the books and lectures, I saw how easily information can transfer from mentor/teacher to student.
    So, though I needed a career, retirement, and benefits, I never saw school in this fashion. I gathered they should put me, a well-educated and experienced teacher, in the room and let me do what I do best. The children and teens would learn the curriculum, but it would be meaningful. Instead of worksheets about prepositions and comprehension (We would use them too.), we would learn sentences construction together, in real time. Then, when they wrote stories, essays, and plays, they would apply the grammar and punctuation on what we had worked together into their writings. With time, those who didn’t apply, would get extra attention and encouragement. Instead of always reading the text and answering comprehensive questions, we would have discussions relevant to the stories, then when they read, there would be more background meaning. But also, we would read more library books, books I bought and brought to class, and books they brought from home (teacher approved of course) so their interests would lead the way. They could even add art projects regarding their readings.
    In my second and third year, I did more than the rest of my career in creative lessons. Why did I pare back. Because the system said “this is what we want.” It didn’t encourage creativity. It didn’t encourage teachers to use what they understood. It said passing these tests were more important. It didn’t want teacher to be different and individuals. With responsibility of course. And I knew this going in. But I also gathered that being in the class meant these kids/teens would have at least one teacher in their 12 years student careers who was different, encouraged them to think for themselves with respect, and taught them where understanding resides. That with me, they would need teachers less and less. I am always working myself out of a job. However, until we have a better system in place, each year, there would always be a new crop of kids or teens needing me until they didn’t.
    Good teachers don’t need tenure. Good teachers don’t need a union. Okay, those things can help, but a good teacher is always aiming at independence and the freedom to teach and learn. And if all parents have the choice to homeschool or send them to the private or public school of their choice, I might at first struggle, but with time, the parents would be asking for me to teach their kids and teens. Am I certain of this? No. It depends upon the parents. Do they want a teacher who really knows his/her stuff, really holds the students accountable, can manage any group of students, and really teaches them how to think, how to understand, and how to become more independent which does require some strictness, but only to the degree the students are respectful.
    Teach your children how to cook, fix a tire, repair the car brakes, create menus, start small business, and more and more. And seek the teachers that really understand our youth and have made it important to encourage individuality, responsibility, and learning.
    Now, lastly but not finally, regarding all the correcting. Like many of my contemporaries, we learned to systematize. So we simplified to correcting tests, but the regular school work, which we reviewed daily, we graded on the weekend.

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  1. The Teacher Life: Grading Papers Over Holiday Break — deutsch29 – Nonpartisan Education Group

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