For the first time in several years, I feel exhausted. Fatigue is normal for the first few weeks of the school year, returning to work after an extended vacation.
It takes a month or so for a teacher to get his “sea legs.” Then, a certain comfort level sets in, and the teacher locks into a rhythm that can carry one through the rigors of a school year.
Well, after eight weeks, I still haven’t found it, making me think about Father Time.
Similar to an athlete whose body can’t work or heal as well as it ages with a lot of usage over the years, I must be experiencing the cumulative effects of being in the game of education for over 28 years which is why I’m still seeking my footing.
Besides, without disparaging my colleagues in other disciplines, the work of the English teacher is formidable.
I have four classes of 10th grade English: 35, 36, 36, and 32 in numbers. This means that every time I give a test or assign a paper, I am collecting 139 handwritten papers—all with unique printing; some legible, some not.
Within the past two weeks, I have graded 139 tests and 695 one-page essays. No wonder I am having stomach problems.
I often ask myself, do I really have to work so hard this late in my career? Why push myself? I certainly do not get paid by the pound of papers I take home.
If I were to add up all the days off I have had in close to three decades, easily one-third of the days were mental health ones, where I just needed time to breathe, time not to assign any more work, time to get through the pile of papers that like a landfill can easily rise as tall as a mountain.
GUSD used to support English teachers with two programs to help ease their paper load. One was the lay reader program and the other was paper grading days.
The lay reader program worked like this. Teachers would farm out class sets of essays to college students majoring in English. Instructions would be given to the student evaluators to correct all grammar and spelling errors. Within days, the essays would be returned, and the teachers would then focus on more specialized areas such as organization and content. Not having to fix mechanical mistakes saved time on the grading.
Additionally, the District used to allocate a certain number of substitute days, labeled paper grading days, to each secondary school with the idea of relieving the teacher from the classroom in order to grade essays.
Both of these programs were wonderful not just for the assistance given to teachers in getting their work done, but the recognition by GUSD that English teachers do have a higher amount of student work to evaluate than other teachers, an acknowledgment rarely given.
Unfortunately, several years ago funding for both programs stopped. Yet, English teachers’ assigning writing did not.
The bulging briefcase I bring home every night and every weekend remind me of what I need to do before I read a book, watch a show, write this column.
Overwhelming? There must be a stronger word for it.
I know colleagues who give multiple-choice tests and envy them a bit. Within minutes, their grading is done, the numbers of correct answers printed on a silver platter.
Others like me who have students write detailed responses written in multiple sentences with supporting evidence have hours ahead of us to read handwritten work and to evaluate the merits of each response.
Ultimately, teaching requires faith that what one does is going to benefit young people. I still believe I’m doing the right thing. Even if it kills me.