5 Stages of Grading

Yesterday, I saw this post this post, which parodies Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief. It made me laugh out loud, because, as a teacher, I can definitely identify with the mental and emotional journey one goes through when presented with a stack of essays. Part of me wishes I had become a math, science, or social studies teacher so I could simply use a scantron machine (I know it takes a lot of work to prepare the tests, but once they’re written, you’re guaranteed to use the same tests for at least the next few years). Teaching English, on the other hand, changes from day to day. Though the facts of the novels remain the same, the students’ interpretations always change, and one has to be open to those interpretations, especially if the students have valid evidence to back them up. It takes a hell of a lot of time to just read an essay (no skimming here), let alone read and comment on one, both in its body and as a summation at the end. It takes me 20-25 minutes to read and comment on each essay, and I recently had a stack of 100 essays to grade (50 on Golding’s Lord of the Flies, and 50 on Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men). That means it took me 2500 extra minutes (nearly 42 hours) of extra work to do outside of planning (which all teachers do equally, if they are good teachers) plus the grading of smaller assignments. I hate those fucking people who say, “It must be nice to have a teacher’s schedule,” when they are completely ignorant of the work it takes outside of the teaching days and year to be successful for oneself as well as the students. Try teaching for just a week. I dare you, asshole.

Anyway, back to the five stages of grading. This is how it went down for me (keep in mind that I like to return essays within one week of receiving them).

  1. Denial: At first, I thought, “100 essays isn’t many. I’m only teaching four classes (instead of the usual five, which would have given me ~30 more essays). I can do this! I’m in no hurry; I think I’ll blog! I haven’t blogged in six months (hence the start-up of the blog again)! Then I think I’ll work out! And my house definitely needs a cleaning!” There goes day one of grading.
  2. Anger: At first, this manifested itself as, “DAMMIT, I can’t meet you for dinner because I have to grade. Oh, the hell with it–[still in denial] I can do what I want! I’m the teacher!” There goes day two of grading. Day three is when I usually pick up a few papers and grade them, then get annoyed at the fact that, despite having gone over how to write formally, students are still using contractions and cannot smoothly integrate quotations into their own writing. And, despite having said, “Cite your sources!” multiple times, there are still some essays that have “borrowed” information from the web. So, it enrages me when I find plagiarism; THEN it infuriates me that I have to go through all the proper channels at work in order to report the plagiarism. More wasted time that could have been spent grading.
  3. Bargaining: When I hit the middle of the essay pile, my anger has turned into annoyance, so I have to motivate myself to continue the process. So, I come up with a rewards system. For every four essays I grade, I can get on the internet to check my email and Facebook page. Of course, I have to respond to the emails and FB comments. I don’t want to be rude or anything. Then, after the next three, I can get a snack. Two more and I can take the dogs for a walk. You get the picture. There goes a half-day of grading.
  4. Depression: With 5+ days of grading time out the window, it sets in: I have all of these essays to grade in a day and a half. It’s the weekend, and instead of going out and having fun, I am on house arrest, at the mercy of 75 more papers to get through. I’m over bargaining, because my own self-imposed deadline is creeping up quickly and loudly, and I can just hear the questions flood in: “When are we going to get our essays back?” and “Are we getting our essays back today?” Some guilt plays a part, too, because I made an explicit deadline for myself and a tacit one for my students, and I’m doubtful that I’ll be able to fulfill either of those promises.
  5. Acceptance: Eventually, I have to accept the fact that I am not going to meet that one-week deadline. I kept the promise to one class, took 10 days for another, and two and a half weeks for the last two (which were particularly challenging in terms of quality). This is it. I can’t change it. So, then the real grading spree begins about a week after I have received the essays. It is what it is, and I can’t change the speed at which I grade. This is the point at which I know I’ll have to grade at least 10 essays a day if I want to give them back in the near future. Ugh.

Grading essays is quite an emotional experience; it wears you down just like any arduous task or physical activity. I always want my students to do well; this time, I was thrilled with the quality of the Lord of the Flies essays. Those freshmen and sophomores really made it easy for me once I got into the “acceptance” phase. The Of Mice and Men essays were the challenging ones; it took me way more time and effort than I had anticipated. But I accept the fact that I wanted to be a teacher, and this is just one of the many “extras” (including that vacation time. Ha!) that I get. Thankfully, being in the classroom interacting with the students is almost always a joy–they’re funny, smart (most of the time), and engaging, and, to use a cliche, it IS rewarding when those light bulbs go off. I can’t think of a way I’d rather make a living.

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