Thursday, June 10, 2010

out for summer!

I am waiting for my first period students to pick up their report cards and go home.

But this semester was good for me. Not always ideal, but good. I learned a few things as a teacher and I'll carry them to my next job, whether here in another year or two, or at another school.

1. Grading was incredibly manageable this year. I usually balk at the stacks of paper and when I finally sit down to actually read and grade essays, I waver over minute points. Not this year. I did put off grading the research paper - a beast that I was tired of by the time it was due - but when I did sit to grade, I just graded. Rubrics help. But more so, it helps to not second guess every point deducted. Seven years into reading student work and I am finally getting the hang of recognizing an A paper compared to a B paper.

I sometimes lack confidence in my ability or knowledge to grade. I question whether this thesis really is strong enough: maybe it is? is it? hmm. That just adds piles of time to grading. Perhaps I've met an unnamed threshold in essay grading and I finally just know what I'm encountering. I am a much more accurate grader for the experience of just grading - all that practice adds up to understanding how to grade. And I think that makes me more fair.

My attitude toward grading - particularly toward doling out poor grades where deserved - has shifted over the years. Starting out, I would frequently award credit just for completing the assignment and while I still have a few of those grades on my books, I realized it was unfair to give equal points to two students who obviously invested radically different amounts of time and thought in a project. It was also just lazy on my part, and not doing my poorer students any service by feeding them the illusion that garbage work was acceptable. I think that one reason I hesitated to be more demanding in my grading was a. For the first four years of my teaching, I counted it an accomplishment if most of my students even turned in an assignment. Out of a class of twenty, getting twelve or thirteen assignments was good. And b. Aren't we all a little indoctrinated by the You are so special speeches? Giving a failing grade seemed like saying You are not so special. How discouraging.

I haven't sorted out all of my grading qualms, but I definitely felt much much more at ease with my grading this semester. And part of that might be owing to

2. Time management! When I accepted the semester job, I was terrified at how much of my time would now be eaten by stacks of essays and unit planning and rereading novels. I would be teaching several works I hadn't taught previously - so I would need to learn how to teach Their Eyes Were Watching God  and Death of a Salesman among others.

Then I decided: Just don't bring work home. Go to school, work work work at school, come home and be home. I compromised and decided that reading or rereading at home was fine, but no grading or planning. Leave the business at school. It worked. It helped that I was very motivated to keep work at work and home at home. I still carried worries home - student issues, parent meetings that I needed to prepare for - but I'm that kind of person: an overthinker.

Showing myself that I could keep most of my work at work was good. I needed to know that. Unfortunately, while my teaching time management was strong, my personal time management faltered. I still think that full-time is too busy for me as a mom; I would frequently get frustrated that I was so tired at the end of the day - too tired to really enjoy Claire, too tired to fix dinner, too tired to want to invite friends over for a visit. I was not happy that the bulk of my creative energy was geared to teaching well, and that my Book Project became That Thing I Think About and Feel Stupid For Trying. I am looking forward to a couple of months' recovery: cooking regularly, writing consistently, enjoying my time with Justin and Claire.

3. If You Enjoy It, They Might Too. With the exception of a few grammar lessons and some of the SAT prep, I really really liked the works we read and the discussions we had. I found that when I felt an interest or joy in what we were learning, that same energy was returned by my students. (Not all, but enough).

I also sensed a camaraderie in my teaching team. This is the first year I have consistently collaborated with other teachers teaching the same class as me. Previously, I was the ninth grade teacher or the grade twelve teacher, so this semester was a treat to work with three other grade eleven literature and language teachers. They had ideas, I had ideas and we put together some good work for ourselves and our students. I appreciated their collective knowledge and insight and never felt awkward about having stepped in mid-year. Also helped that we could all joke together - humor on the job oughta be a law.

So overall: A good semester. I needed one of those.


Joie said...

glad to hear that you've had a good semester overall. Good things to write on and remember.

Clare said...

i hear you on grading...i have cut way down on the comments i write on students' labs. they can't read my handwriting and anyway they never try. i go over things out loud more, and conference with students who need it or want it. and i'm with you on not bringing work home (though to do that i do just give credit/no credit for some assignments..gotta compromise somewhere!).

Sergio en Colombia said...


Anonymous said...

Yay for the end of the school year!!! Enjoy the time off with Claire and Justin. Write and blog and caption pictures and put your feet up and read. We will miss having you here... Kuwait is starting to seem like a possible travel destination... hmmm... Wonder what Dad would think of that??? Love you much, sweet-girl. Mom

N.D. said...

it's great you had a good year! And nice you are still teaching. I feel the same about grading, and I'm always questioning myself about it. I felt like each year I'd get closer and closer to being happy w/ my policies but still not completely there. I'm glad you had sucha great year!

Angela and David Kidd said...

Sounds like you had a really rewarding semester. It's so interesting to read your perspective. I never really appreciated what made the different between a good and a bad teacher but now I get it. The good teachers work a lot harder.

Anonymous said...

Kind of a two steps forward, one step back dance. That's the way I've felt about circulation this year. Just think I have the knack of it and I stumble. This "dance" keeps us all humble, and trying new steps. Sounds like you learned a whole new routine this year! Hugs! Rollene