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end of term

Hello, my oft-neglected blog.  I’m at the end of another term, and I’ve been thinking through the lessons learned this semester.  This marks the end of my probationary period at the College, which means that I feel like I should have gained some incredible wisdom and clarity.  Mostly, I’m just sleepy.

Three things that went really well this semester:

  1. Group creative projects in my lit classes.  Wow, these turned out to be *so* impressive.  I’m not really sure why they went better than usual, but some things I think helped: I kept the assignment open-ended and got out of the way of crazy ideas; I set the groups and tried to balance strengths and weaknesses; I let students focus on any medium they chose (which means I have paintings and scrapbooks and short films and blogs and musical compositions and twitter feeds).
  2. Assignment scheduling.  By putting the group creative projects at the end of the semester, I (a) ended on a high note, and (b) returned all the papers early and minimized my marking going in to finals.
  3. Scaffolding in my Academic Writing class.  I feel like the assignments built upon one another more straightforwardly and the students had a clearer sense of how they were expected to improve and develop over the course of the semester.

Things to change:

  1. I grew to loathe my Academic Writing textbook over the course of the semester.  Luckily, I think I’ve found a replacement.  I would dearly love to make it more than a year with a composition textbook.  My honeymoons with them seem so, so short.  And changing textbooks means major course redesign, so that’s frustrating too.
  2. I think I am overly ambitious with my lit classes.  Fewer texts, digging in deeper, would probably be better for everyone.  But it’s too much like Sophie’s Choice every time I have to narrow my selections.
  3. In general terms, I need to get my shit together.  I never once pulled an all-nighter as an undergrad and I’ve pulled 5 this semester to get grading done.  The bad thing is how self-reinforcing it is, as I seem to not suffer any ill effects (yet, I know, I know).

Now I’m looking ahead to the summer term — I start teaching my field school in two weeks and we (16 students, three instructors) head for the UK in five.  I plan to blog about the field school experience a fair bit, so stay tuned for that.

on coming up for air

My very first end-of-term as someone with a 4/4 teaching load.

I really thought I would have more time to myself.

Are you laughing hysterically yet?

I’m about 25% of the way through the grading pile (it looooooooms) and prepping for exams on Wednesday and Thursday.  And then sweet freedom!  Well, no, and then prepping for winter semester madly before flying east for holiday madness.  But surely I’ll get a nap in there, right?  Right?!

I have a lot of topics to blog about over the holidays — catching plagiarism, dealing with aggressive students, finding time for research projects.  What can I say, it has been an eventful semester.

Things I’ve found out about me:

  • I can operate on remarkably little sleep with just enough sugar.
  • Nothing is more relaxing than the mindless clicking of a Zynga game.
  • Campus is creepy quiet on a Sunday.
  • Days off are essential and must be planned for.
  • Sometimes I just need to sit and stare at a wall.

And I still haven’t given in to caffeine!  If grad school and dissertating didn’t break me, I’ll be damned if work will.  Coffee-free since ’83!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to slide back under my pile of essays.  But do stick around over the holidays for some serious discussions (and some fun ones, too).

Thanks for sticking around, dear readers!

the five stages of grading

Everyone is familiar with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and her stage model of coping with grief popularly known as the five stages of grief. What you may not know is that Kübler-Ross actually developed her theory as a graduate student, basing her conception of the process of loss on the experiences one goes through over a grading weekend.

In coping with grading, it’s important for graduate students and young professors to know that they are not alone and that this process takes time.  Not everyone goes through every stage or processes the reality of grading in this order, but everyone experiences some version of at least two of these steps.

Denial.  At this stage, the instructor is unwilling to acknowledge the size of the task ahead of him or her. An instructor in denial may be heard to say things like, “It’s not really that many essays, when you think about it.” An instructor in denial will grossly overestimate his or her potential assignment-per-hour output. Denial at the syllabus-creation stage of course development can lead to tears. Denial can also manifest itself as avoidance, where grading is put aside in favour of vastly more important activities like cleaning the fridge, baking, working out, or writing elaborate blog posts about the stages of grading.

Anger.  Usually anger begins once the instructor starts grading.  The first few papers are likely to excite the grader, but as a steady stream of errors trickles in, the instructor may become disillusioned. Commonly heard at this stage: “But we covered this in class!  A lot!” “Wait, what does this even mean?” “Redundant!  This is redundant!” Instructors at this stage of the process are likely to have unnecessarily large reactions to relatively small frustrations; for example, in one case an instructor screamed into a pillow upon discovering that every student in the class was still using “they” as a singular pronoun.

Bargaining. This stage usually begins as an earnest attempt to buckle down and grade.  The instructor might say, “If I grade five papers, I can watch one episode of House,” or, “For every page I grade, I get to eat a piece of candy.”  This process starts well, but as the instructor progresses the amount of work required to achieve the reward generally becomes smaller and smaller, until the instructor is checking Facebook after every sentence he or she grades.

Depression. At some point in a marking weekend, the instructor will come to realize that in spite of his or her best intentions, the papers won’t be marked in time for the next class. For the idealistic young instructor, this is also usually the moment he or she realizes that the assignments themselves are not particularly strong.  These realizations can lead to feelings of failure, spiralling into reality TV watchathons or video game blitzes instead of grading.  Ultimately, though, recognizing one’s limitations is a healthy part of the process that leads directly to the final stage.

Acceptance/Resignation. At some point, the instructor comes to term with the reality that the papers must be graded. This reality is usually acknowledged the afternoon before the instructor wishes to return the papers, leading to an all-night grading blitz. At some point and by some miracle, however, it all gets done, and the instructor is primed and ready to start to the process over again when the next major assignment comes in.

This blog post brought to you from somewhere under a pile of essays.