Wednesday, October 14, 2009

SURVEY: What would you do with 40 hours?

(a) Read several interesting novels.
(b) Deep clean and reorganize your house and everything in it.
(c) Watch 20 movies that you've been wanting to see.
(d) Grade 115 eleventh graders' essays.

I chose option (d). Yes, folks, I truly did. My students did the math this morning. Over the past two weeks, I spent over 40 hours grading their essays--in between teaching full-time and dealing with "life" and all of its related responsibilities.

This morning, I said to them, "I am forcing you guys to revise your essays because I spend a lot of time on the comments, and I don't want you to just look at the grade and toss the paper in the garbage. I want you to look at what I wrote, strive to change your weaknesses, and improve as writers."

One of them said, "Mrs. Nielson, how much time do you think you spent?"

I thought about it and then responded, "I guess I don't really know. I spend about 25 minutes on each essay, and there are 115 of the math."

I was shocked when they told me the answer. "That's about 40-50 hours, Mrs. Nielson."

???!!!????!!!???!! (stunned silence)

"No, Johnny, you're wrong. Do the math again," I insisted.

"No, really, it's actually 40-50 hours."

I stood there in shocked horror, and then screamed out, "I HAVE NO LIFE!! YOU GUYS, I HAVE NO LIFE!"

They were amused.

I was not.

I know, I know. I could cut back. Scrimp a little. Cut corners. Believe me, I'm trying to. But after eight years of tutoring/teaching writing, I've streamlined the grading process as much as I possibly know how to while still making the feedback formative and meaningful. A major essay just takes 20-25 minutes to read and thoughtfully respond to. Writing instruction just takes time.

But, oh, think of the things I could have done with that 40 hours:

(a) Watched the Pride and Prejudice BBC mini-series six times.
(b) Driven to Colorado and back.
(c) Worked a full-time second job (earning money!)
(d) Made Ryan enough decent meals to last us several months. (He's lucky if he gets one per week.)
(e) Made a dent in my "to-read" list, which currently has 55 titles on it.
(f) Completed all of the major projects that are in piles on my floor: scrapbooks, cleaning, journaling, filing, bills, stuff for the non-profit...

And what did I do? I graded papers instead.

I sure hope they learned something.


  1. whoa.
    did you ever take a class from steven walker at byu? the man could speed read like nothing i've seen. followed by a conversation on specific points from the essay. he read my essay in the time it took me to write my name and write the letter for the grade i thought i deserved. he had a method he'd share. in your spare time (haha) you could try contacting him for that. just a thought!

  2. you're just feeling that way because you are to busy to hear yourself think. I was like that last year...and now that I am not NEARLY as busy this year, it makes me laugh how much I let myself get stressed out about all the things I needed to too. Everything felt so urgent too. Plus..that is the life of the teacher, right? And nothing is easy...otherwise you would never be happy. I'm sure you're doing a great job Rach!

  3. Ahhh, Rach! You are so amazing. Though I agree, it's painful to think about.

  4. I cracked up reading this. The best part is that I can see you screaming "I have no life" to a classroom of students. Sorry sis. I must say that posts like this made me think I chose the right subject to teach. One right answer, baby!

  5. That is why you are such a great teacher/person though. I am having a "yes person" week to the extreme and thought of you. :)

  6. Lately I wish I could sleep for 40 hours...I know that sounds ridiculous. Haha :)

  7. Great conversation to have with them, it screams I care about you! I'm sure that it will last long after their papers.

  8. AMEN! i feel your pain, which is why this weekend (end of the quarter) is PAINFUL as i try to make up for all the times i didn't spend my 40 hours grading...

    <3 amber


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