For me, one of the more tedious aspects of teaching is keeping up with grading. By the time I get to the end of the school day, I’m mentally fried and unable to concentrate on anything other than getting home and unwinding. On days when we have a department or staff meeting, I’m usually daydreaming if not actively participating in the conversations going on around me. I once read that teachers do more decision making than brain surgeons, and need to be able to switch gears quickly and efficiently at a moment’s notice. It’s no wonder that sitting down to grade after a long day is the last thing I want to do.
Luckily, as the years have gone by, I’ve been able to cut back on the amount of lesson planning I do, in general, because I have a stockpile of activities, lectures, and assignments for my classes. This is not to say that I never spend time refining these things; I’m always tweaking and changing things every year. I’m always looking for new essay prompts, engaging activities, relevant content, and multimedia components that are useful and go with whatever it is that we’re studying. If I’m trying a new novel or unit, my lesson planning time goes up, but it’s not as time consuming as it once was. But, grading is a whole other beast. As mentioned, when I get to the end of the work day, I just want to get home and relax. Thinking about opening my laptop up and scoring assignments seems daunting.
One of my teacher friends told me that she forces herself to do 20 minutes of grading every day during the work week. Sometimes this happens before school, after school, or at home at night after her daughter goes to bed. She claims that this has been a tremendous help. I think I need to take a page out of her book because the unscored assignments from my first full week back at work are staring right at me.
For the most part, I try to reserve my weekends for chores, relaxing, spending time with family and friends, and vegging out as much as possible. When I first started teaching full-time, I was often putting in six hours or more on the weekend doing lesson plans and grading each Sunday. I have now given myself a boundary of 2–3 hours per weekend to do necessary work. I have learned how to prioritize what needs to get immediately done versus things that can truly wait until the work week begins. Considering I get to work by 7:30 am and leave between 4 and 4:30 pm, I’d say that I’m doing my fair share. Things eventually get done, but last year I really learned that I need to prioritize my personal life over my career. This is not to say that I’m lazy or not hardworking, but taking time to recover on the weekends and weeknights is high on my list of priorities these days.
Taking into consideration my attempts at working a reasonable 40–50 hours a week, I wanted to try something new this year with my assignments. Our staff has been going through a year and a half of grading equity conversations and professional development on the topic. It’s been really eye opening in terms of what I want to focus on. Through these conversations, I’ve started to think about how life outside of school, for all involved, is important to consider. I began to think about my students and how the other obligations and responsibilities they have at home could affect the amount of time they have to work on assignments, just like how my life outside of school is important. My students need time to unwind and just be teens without needing to worry about completing a small assignment for homework over the weekend or late into the night on school days.
In an attempt to simplify and lessen the workload for both myself and my students, I’m attempting to not give any homework this year and only grade major assignments. This is not to say that homework will NEVER happen. If they don’t finish something we started in class, then they need to finish it on their own time, but I’m building in a good portion of time during the periods so this shouldn’t happen too often. There was a bit of an uproar on campus with certain teachers when the topic of no homework was brought up. Many of the old school teachers feel that homework is a necessity for students. This might be partially true for some subjects. The reality is that when students get home, the ones who struggle will either not do the work, or they will end up giving incorrect or incomplete answers. It’s not super helpful for those kids to do all this work at home, show up the next day for class, and realize that they missed the point or had incorrect information. Homework can be a support and can be practice, but how helpful is it if they’re doing it incorrectly? And, to add on, how helpful is it for them to be penalized for this? This is what a majority of the conversation has been amongst teachers this year.
The world has changed drastically in a very short amount of time. Education is also changing drastically with each and every year. The students that I have this year are very different from my pre-pandemic students. They are more in tune with their needs, their boundaries, and the fact that their lives outside of school are just as important. I want to honor that mentality because it’s one that I’m taking on for my own life. How hypocritical would it be for me to pile on work for these kids outside of school hours if I’m not doing the same? The reality is that there’s been a shift in how we think about assignments and homework. There’s been a shift in how much teacher’s are willing to sacrifice their personal lives for their careers. There’s been a shift with students and how much they are willing to sacrifice outside of school hours for their education. This is not to say that teachers no longer care about their students or their careers, or that students no longer care about school, but it’s to say that time away from work or school is precious. Time spent recharging your batteries and living life is just as important as what you do Monday thru Friday on campus. I don’t know if my new homework and grading policies will work out, but I felt a need to change things up so it aligns with this new way of thinking. Now, I just need to figure out how to make time and energy to get my damn grading done.