How many papers does it take an English teacher to grade before he collapses?

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.

 

Why I Did Not Renew My National Board Certification

Back in 2003, I earned my National Board certification.

If you don’t know what that is, you are not alone.

Established in 1987, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) is an independent, nonprofit organization working to advance accomplished teaching for all students.

Its noble goal was to elevate the teaching profession to the level of doctors and attorneys by offering teachers a PhD of sorts.  And, like the bar exam, create a certification process rigorous enough so that not all applicants would pass on the first attempt.

The certification process requires videotaping multiple classroom lessons and writing dozens of pages analyzing student work and reflecting on one’s practice.

While sometimes grueling, I found the process more rewarding and relevant than the work I did for my master’s degree.

Plus, the NBPTS encouraged school districts and states to reward those who earned certification with a bonus, something unheard of in the teaching profession.

Many did reward teachers, though to varying degrees.  North Carolina was a standout in the country, giving five-figure annual bonuses.

GUSD provides some additional money, but expects the National Board (NB) teacher to work extra hours, which makes no sense.   Teachers with master’s and doctorate degrees receive annual stipends without having to work more, so why should NB teachers do so?

Also, the district never promoted the practice by offering to pay for part or all of the $1,500 fee to go through the process (when I applied the fee was $2,300).

The goal of NBPTS was to have 100,000 board-certified teachers by 2003.

That didn’t happen.

By 2007, only 60,000 teachers achieved certification.

Ten years later, the number is finally above 100,000, equating to just over three percent of total teachers in the country.

One catch, though.   Unlike a college degree which once earned never needs renewal, the NBPTS requires teachers to renew their certification every 10 years—at a cost of $1,250.

That I did not do, yet still view myself as a National Board certified teacher.  Once earned, no fee should strip that designation away.

This past summer, NBPTS was soliciting board certified teachers to work over the summer at the professional rate of, get ready, $25 an hour.   My electrician charges me $100 an hour.

The Princeton Review pays high school graduates $22 an hour to tutor, yet the NBPTS pays just three dollars more for a teacher with a college graduate, a fifth year of college earning a teaching credential, and national board certification.  It doesn’t make any sense.

Which is why I contacted NBPTS President and CEO Peggy Brookins.

Here is a portion of the letter:

As much as I would like to work with other noted educators around the country, I wanted to let you know why I am not submitting an application to do this work:  the low remuneration of $25 per hour.

What surprises me is of all the organizations to spotlight high quality teaching talent, one would think that the NBPTS would be the one to recognize the importance by compensating NBCTs adequately, commensurate with their expertise to the field of teaching.

I never received a reply.

Imagine that.   The head of the organization that purports to lead the charge for the best and brightest in the land, yet has no time to respond to one of its own.

Beyond higher pay, NBPTS’s hope was for those in charge of running schools to view NB teachers as resources, experts in the field of education.

I would like to tell you about all the exciting opportunities my school district offered me in helping them shape education policy and set curriculum standards.   But I’m still waiting.