I Love My Job, But…

Throw out all of the political drama my district is currently going through, the occasional wacky parent, a handful of disruptive kids, and the low pay – I love my job. Interacting with a 150 kids a day, discussing topics that I find interesting, developing curriculum, getting to read more about these topics, and getting to guide my own curriculum make me want to keep coming to work. You’ll notice grading is not on that list. Grading is the part of the job that I actually despise at times. I know evaluation is one of the keys of education and do my best to make sure that I give my students a fair shake, but when I collect a big project or an set of essays, a feeling of dread circles over my head and doesn’t disappear until I have finished.

I just finished grading 109 AP World History essays on the Haitian Revolution in the last week. This set easily took me 25 hours to finish. I usually take 2-3 weeks to get back essays, but I wanted them done well before the grading period ends next week. This is on top of writing a couple lectures (2-3 hours) and revising a lesson for my AP class. I have friends who have said it must be nice to be done with work at 2:30. But, as my wife will attest to, I am always working. I always have a paper to grade, a lesson to work on, a meeting to attend, or a book to read. When I have nothing to do for tomorrow, I think about the next day or even the next school year. Something always needs revising.

Then there is all that time off in the summer. Yeah right.

Anyone else ever get comments that teachers “have it easy”?

11 thoughts on “I Love My Job, But…”

  1. If I get the comment -“You have your weekends off and summers off and only “work” until 2:20″ comment one more time – I think I’m going to scream!

    I spend my weekends correcting and designing powerful lessons to teach to my students.

    I spend most of my summers doing professional development (either classes or workshops) plus I have to work a second job since I’m not paid during the summer.

    “Real world folks” just don’t get what we do – between the politicians and the media never giving us the recognition we deserve – it’s a nightmare!

    No – we don’t “have it easy” –

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  2. Most people are smart enough not to believe that around here…though there are some teachers who seem to have been misinformed, scatting at 3pm sharp…

    I do have to say that essays are by far the worst to grade. I would rather plan, too! I’m kind of glad I have more Spanish classes, so less grading than the English classes. Still, grading abysmal quizzes is supremely depressing.

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  3. I literally just posted about the time off myth. I agree that grading is the worst part of it. I love to plan, I love to read new stuff that will help me plan, I love being in the classroom. If I could do away with grading, I’d be in heaven.

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  4. Since I started teaching last year, I have had to educate many of my friends abou the hours that a teacher actually works. I agree with you whole-heartedly…when I am in school, I am thinking about school. When I am out of school on the weekend or during the summer, I am thinking about school. I will have to say that the physical rest during the summer makes up for the lack of mental rest! Such a great profession if you can enjoy it. I enjoy your blog–it’s inspired me to start one of my own! Thanks

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  5. I agree that grading is the most tedious part of this profession. In particular, I’m always amazed at how much time gets sucked away while grading essays. Stiff, I find that most of my students appreciate the work (yet another way to demonstrate that we care).

    As for teachers “having it easy”, most of us do not. Setting aside incompetent educators (and every school has a few), many teachers log in quite a few hours. I find that summers help me shape the “big picture” of the school year (what themes to explore, different learning styles, etc.).

    We have a challenging job. (Does an accountant ever have a spreadsheet say “I’m not going to work for you today because I simply don’t care”? The analogy may be weak, but I’m constantly trying to relay the difficulties in juggling 150 personalities and learners.) But I love it.

    This is a great blog. I first read about Moodle here and have found it be very useful in my classes.

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  6. I posted a similar comment about grading in a recent post. The depressing thing is that my to-do list today includes marking the re-submissions of the assignments I failed at that time! Poor students never die – they just re-submit. 🙂

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  7. i saw your blog and saw, also, that there were no comments. your grading problem is so common, i guess no one has much to say. i taught ap language and comp for about 13 years and, of course, i had the usual load of essays to read. some of what i have to say is disheartening but it may help cut your stress, i’m retired now which is why i have any time at all to write.

    i found over the years that i was very different as a teacher. i went to a dept. meeting where we were supposed to read essays and compare our scores and grades. i finished my stack of papers well before anyone else in the room, but my scores were nearly identical. my first advice for you is to stop grading your essays and just score them. other teachers were spending an enormous time compiling evidence to support a grading system that was arbitrary to begin with. like me, you must have ample benchmark papers to keep your scoring in line and realistic. just how much time to you figure the actual ap scorers spend per essay? my 40 min. AP essays were usually scored by expert scores in under a minute, so i set that as my initial goal, it didn’t take long. kids want the bottom line. they want the score. so, give it to them in the same time frame as the exam itself.

    but you probably want to use the essays and your scoring to teach them how to improve. okay, but that doesn’t mean you have to annotate every single paper. the benchmark papers are effective teaching aids. the key here is to get lots of info to the kids so that they see the patterns and the scoring rationale. i had a 100 kids (3 sections) and spent about 90 minutes scoring the papers. if you don’t use your scores in your grading system for the course, then you can cut everything except the score itself which you should be able to do in the same amount of time as i did. i know it goes against custom, but there is no reason you have to grade the essays after you have scored them. the kids can see if their writing is passing or not, improving or not if they get lots of practice. i gave one essay per week in class, timed at 40 minutes (using only former ap essay questions) and another essay question for homework each week. that gave me about 200 essays a week—about 3 hours of scoring.

    i knew that scoring was important to the teaching process, but the only scores that really mattered came at the end of the course when they took the exams. why bother to grade essays while they are learning? it isn’t really fair, anyway, to use benchmarks from papers written at the end of course exam to grade papers at the beginning of the course. so, i scored papers using ap benchmarks from the beginning, of the course but didn’t grade the essays. i analyzed and deconstructed those benchmarks and taught my students to do the same with their own papers. i knew i was going to have to grade them eventually, but i postponed it as long as possible. giving the first semester grades seemed especially unfair if i were to base the grades on the quality of the essays (we were only halfway through a course that was teaching them how to write those essays). i decided that the first semester grades should reflect only effort—how much of the assigned work had they done? the work was challenging and uniformly alien (the irony of that word choice is not lost on me).

    i found that my district’s average for my course was about 50% A’s. okay, that was fine with me. i made sure that about half got A’s—more if i had a really good class—and the rest got B’s. in an AP class with the bonus GPA that meant that everyone (well, almost everyone) got an A. some got the regular A (a B in my ap course) and some got the bonus A worth 5 grade points by getting an A in the course. the AP exam itself will set its own grading system and everyone will regard it more seriously than your own. a kid who gets an A in your course and doesn’t pass will see your grade only as a consolation, but it won’t mean much to him.

    i spent even less time grading than i did scoring. i had already decided that first semester grades should be based on effort and i found every grading system based on “achievement” and quality distasteful and suspect. the grades were largely irrelevant and largely indefensible, really. so, i gave three effort grades for both semesters—A for those who worked harder, B for those who didn’t, and C’s for those who really didn’t want to take the course and wanted out. i also promised to change any B to an A if the kid passed the ap exam in may. i ended up changing as many as 10 grades the following term. i taught juniors so it was easy enough to do. that wouldn’t work with seniors. i reduced the attention given to grades to an absolute minimum and increased the attention being given to their actual scores on practice exam questions.

    for a couple years i would not discuss my grading “system” until after i had given out grades, but finally i relented somewhat and told the class that you could get an A by completing 100% of all work assigned in the course—all readings, all essays, all homework. there was a lot of work in the course, so i felt it was fair enough. i would not explain to them how to work for a B or how i decided to give the few C’s that i gave each semester. there were other ways to get an A, but i never discussed them with the class. in fact, i usually didn’t decide how to pick the under-100% A’s until the due date for turning in the report cards. each student kept a portfolio of all their work—all essays, m/c tests, readings— and each filled out a checklist in the front of the portfolio showing which assignments they had completed. (this was a district requirement for english classes). i did NOT check every folder to see if they were lying about the work they did. i spot checked a few and never found anyone cheating, so i rarely checked any of them after the first couple years. i didn’t tell them that, of course. it took me about 10-15 minutes per class to figure grades. i had maybe 5 complaints in all the years i taught the ap courses and those complaints were quickly resolved.

    the discomfort of not knowing their grade until the last minute was unfortunate, but if they had simply done all the work, they would not have had that concern. they knew early on my disdain for grading and my reservations about the value of the ap exams themselves. the prestige was undeniable, but the reality was also undeniable. the exams were rigged from the get-go and, like all other ETS exams including the SAT, had a direct correlation with family income. if your ego is tied up in any way to your students’ exam results, well, i feel for you. it was ironic that i was the most outspoken critic of the ap exams and ran the most relentless test-prep program in my district. well, i had to. my school, five miles from the mexican border, was 93% minority. it took an entire course just to get them ready for one three hour exam. the final irony is especially heartbreaking. over the years i found that my students scored at the national average on the three written essays (it’s supposed to be an essay writing course, huh?), but their scores on the one-hour m/c section was always about 20-25 points below the national average. so, only about 20% to 25% ever passed the exam. but any student who could score at the national average on the m/c section could fail all 3 essays and still pass.

    now, back to your grading. you can still grade some papers in detail if you find that it helps the kids learn how to organize their essays. the nice thing is that you only have to grade them once and you only have to grade 10 or 15 at most. you grade the benchmarks. they already have the official score, but you can analyze the score, break it down into components, show how certain essays earned points and how others fell short. your grading efforts are directed away from your students, a good thing, really.

    as you might imagine, there were not a lot of teachers who took my advice to heart. but i taught for over 30 years under conditions that most people who describe as undesirable, and i never burned out. i was always happy teaching. it was schools i didn’t like much. it may have helped that i came from a low-income background myself, and though i looked white, my students knew that i wasn’t quite white—almost white. my first wife’s rich la jolla family knew the same thing.

    i hope my comments give you some things to think about. please save your energy for planing lessons and teaching. try to limit the administrative functions in your classes to the barest of minimums.

    ps: i tried to add this comment to the teachermagazine comments section but i guess they screen the postings for malice. i see you’re from san diego. me, too. i was born here and never left except for that 3 years in the army in 1967. i’d like to say that i was a lot more relaxed and rested after reducing my grading and scoring so drastically. you probably know better. i was still exhausted allmost every day, but i was working a lot more on the kinds of activities that i really valued—revising lessons for one.

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  8. Teachers’ hours vs. bankers’ hours:
    Years ago, before direct deposit, I toddled into the bank on a Saturday morning a week and a half after payday. The teller what surprised to see a well-aged paycheck. I explained that this was the first opportunity that I had time to visit. The teller could not imagine such a situation stating, “I thought teachers worked from eight to two.”
    Now I have a pseudo-cousin who was a executive for an american bank’s offices in Kuala Lumpur. I knew that he worked much longer hours than just those when customers may enter. This inspired my reply of, “And I thought bankers work from ten to three!”
    The teller laughed and replied, “Oh no! We were here until seven last night. We couldn’t get the books to balance.”
    Not only is teaching a tough job, but my meager compensation is deposited in a savings institution that can’t balance its books!?!
    KEW of California

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  9. Six years ago I quit my law practice, went through the alternative certification program in my city, and became a teacher. I really wanted to teach and thought I’d been around the block enough times (I was 46) that I didn’t have too many unrealistic expectations. That first year was an eye opener. I worked all the time. I’d leave school at 4:30, go pick up my daughter and bring her back to school to work for another couple of hours grading papers or preparing lessons. On Fridays, I stayed until the custodians kicked us out at 10:30. Weekends were spent grading papers, planning lessons, and combing garage sales for books for my classroom (I was an English teacher) — because, of course, we had to furnish our own books (other than textbooks) along with bookshelves. My “planning” period was nearly always taken up with an inservice, which was usually about paperwork we needed to complete or the 17 ways we had to document the modifications we made for the various different kinds of learners in our classrooms. I finally cracked in December when the Dean of Curriclum pulled me out of another planning period I desperately needed to watch yet another film on how to document our gradebooks. When I lashed out at her and said this whole system was insane, she asked what kind of work I’d done before, and I told her I was an attorney. “Is this harder than being an attorney?” she asked. “God, yes,” I said. “It is the hardest work I have ever done in my life.” And that’s the truth. When I told my family and friends what it was like, they didn’t believe me. They said “It can’t really be like that or we’d hear about it.” But it was. Teachers have my utmost respect. I taught for 4 years, but I went back to being a lawyer 2 years ago. I miss my students; I miss being in the classroom, but as a single parent, I couldn’t afford to be a teacher anymore.

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  10. Thanks to all here for good insight into what being a teacher is really like. I’m a potential mid-career changer considering teaching as a new career at age 41. My first career was electrical engineering. Although I have no direct in class experience, I have enjoyed ‘teaching’ people in various situations for many years, especially focused tutoring activities.

    I notice that many here talk about the 24/7 aspect of teaching as a career…that you’re ‘thinking about teaching’ even when you are not. I would point out that this is true of many other professions as well, so if you are thinking of changing from teaching to something else, beware of similar problems in other fields. Engineering is definitely like this as well…I worked on projects lasting years in duration and never got away from thinking about the job…even literally having work invade my dreams on occasion. What made me leave engineering was the instability of the career…around the mid-1980’s it seemed the average position lasted 2 years, then you were laid off or ‘redeployed’ to find another job within the company. The problem with this is that as an engineer you must constantly reinvent yourself to land new jobs every few years. And I’m not talking about changing from 3rd grade to 5th grade instruction, I’m talking about changes like going from being a support engineer for a factory making radar parts at one job to becoming a software engineer writing programming libraries for multimedia development at the next position, to designing part of a medical ultrasound system at another job.

    Of course, the tradeoff is that (at least previously) engineering is a well paid career. But what I longed for was an environment where I didn’t have to reinvent myself literally every two years to stay employed. I was constantly having to choose between uprooting my family to move across the country to stay fairly close to work I was experienced to perform, or staying local and taking radical changes in job duties.

    While I know teaching is generally less lucrative than engineering, it is my impression that as teachers you are able to stay focused on the teaching career path and not need to rehire at new jobs very often. Is this a true interpretation? Or am I wrong and job placement turmoil is a big part of staying employed as a teacher?

    thanks again for all your great comments here.

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  11. James writes above “Since I started teaching last year, I have had to educate many of my friends abou the hours that a teacher actually works.”

    With literally millions of teachers who could help in this education process about what it really takes to be a devoted teacher, why has it not taken place? Maybe we could develop a lesson plan to educate our neighbours…

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