Three Ways to Beat Grading Stress - Room 213

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Three Ways to Beat Grading Stress

Do you love teaching English, but the grading is dragging you down? Me too--if I let it.

I had a bad week last week, but I learned (re-learned, really) something that I thought I'd share with you. 

In my "wisdom", I had two different classes pass in major essays, and I needed to get them graded for report cards in less than a week -- and I was feeling sick.  Each day, I approached the pile of papers with dread. I ploughed through them angrily, cursing my job. "I HATE grading papers!" I complained to my husband--and anyone else in earshot.

By Wednesday, I knew that something had to give. I wasn't making much progress and I was feeling miserable. But suddenly, I realized I was holding my breath. That realization snapped me out of it, and made me remember three important things I've learned along the way. And you know what? They are very simple things that make a  big difference. 

Here they are:

It gets me every time. I know that I hold my breath when I'm tense. When I do that, my stomach clenches, as do the muscles in my neck and shoulders. Basically, I become a ball of stress. And all it takes to loosen up that whole mess is a few deep breaths and attention to my breathing as I complete the task. It works every time, and yet, it's amazing how often I forget to just breathe.  Now before you say, "Thanks, Captain Obvious," think about it, and notice if you do the same when you're doing a job you don't like to do. Then, take deep, slow breaths and see if you notice the change.

I did, so after some more cleansing breaths, I went back to my digital pile of essays, and started to apply the next two tips:

Over my two decades of teaching, I've used up gallons of ink writing on student papers.  This is something I changed a few years ago when I realized how many students didn't read my painstakingly made comments.  I've come to believe that it was a very ineffective way to feed my students forward and changed my grading habits.  So why was I spending so much time commenting on my students' essays -- especially after I'd given them a lot of formative feedback already?

Old habits die hard, especially when you're already stressed. As I said above, I was feeling sick and the report card deadline was looming large in my head. Instead of thinking about what I was doing, I just started mindlessly diving into the work, pointing out every missing comma and run-on sentence. It was taking forever and I was deviating so far from what I know to be true. No wonder I was miserable!

Another cause of my misery was the task I was setting for myself each day. I knew to make my deadline I had to get ten papers done each day. So, each time I sat down, I was telling myself I couldn't get up until those ten papers were done.  It wasn't working; each day I was coming up short, unable to read one more.

I know fellow English teachers who put a chocolate or candy after every fifth essay as a little reward for making it to the next goal. I do love my chocolate, but I find a better, more effective goal is to take a break. Like the candy-buriers, I divide my papers into piles, but when I finish each pile I get up and do something else, even if it's to wash the dishes or pack my lunch. One thing that works well for me is to take a quick walk around the block or do some stretching - something that gets the blood flowing and helps to clear my head. Then, I come back to the next pile somewhat refreshed.

Once I started doing these three things, the rest of my week was so much better. My pile reduced at a much quicker pace because I commenting less, and feeling so much better about the process. 

Sometimes all it takes is a little attitude adjustment and a deep breath. 

Do you have any tried and true techniques for making grading less torturous? If you do, please share!


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