I have just come through a horrible few days of grading my ass off (only metaphorically; I still have a big butt) in order to give my freshmen fast and helpful feedback before the end of the term, plus I gave my AP Lit students an extra grade-bumping assignment at the very end of the term. The trimester officially ended on Friday, but I allowed students to turn work in through Saturday. And then I had to grade every one of those assignments in order to calculate term grades and write a one-paragraph comment on every single student by 9:00 a.m. today.
The commenting is par for the course; we do it three times a year, and I don't find it that big a deal. (I'm lucky in this regard, because for some of my colleagues who don't write regularly, the comments are pretty agonizing to write.) But the grading just wiped me out, as it's been doing all year. It was a miserable couple of days, and at one point yesterday I started crying because I just felt so overwhelmed.
The good news is that I made the deadline and survived to tell the tale.
The better news is that the misery of the last few days was actually a bit of a wake-up call. When I first started teaching at FGS, it felt like a reasonably relaxing pace; I did get overwhelmed by the grading at first, but I learned to pace myself by halfway through the first year. But I've now lost that pacing and am wearing myself out much of the time.
I talked with a good friend and colleague this morning, and she had helpful things to say about our mutual tendency to always be competing, not with our colleagues but rather with our former selves. If I did something good last year, I feel I have to do the same thing this year plus some new good thing. We're always trying to become better, and of course in some ways that's a good thing -- we wouldn't want to be those teachers who have been teaching the same book in the same way for twenty years now -- but at the same time the ongoing escalation can't go on indefinitely.
And I think I may have hit the limit. If I keep going as I've been doing, I'm moving quickly toward burnout. And that's no good.
Plus, I should reevaluate the extent to which the work I'm giving my students too much work or the right amount of work. I think that all of the assignments I give them are good -- I've actually got a bit of a reputation for my good assignments, in fact -- but that doesn't mean that I should give ALL of them to the students each year! Well, I don't actually give all of my assignments to my students each year, of course ... but maybe I give them too many? And then I have to grade and comment on them all. None of this is new, especially for English teachers, but it's seriously getting to me this year.
Notorious, Ph.D.'s series on mid-career malaise has been well-timed for my needs, and as luck or fate would have it, her blog post on "Changing Directions" was posted yesterday, about the same time I was crying. I read it during one of my grading breaks, and I was forcefully struck by her advice to "Realize your job doesn't owe you anything but a paycheck" and "Don't de-prioritize those things that make your life worth living." I have been breaking both of these rules with abandon in the last couple of years, and I'm paying the cost of it.
Things must change.
Here's the start: Other than a vocabulary quiz, I have no grading to do for the next week! I then get work from all of my students right before our spring break next Friday, but at least I'll have some leisure in which to grade them.
And when we come back from spring brea, there are only about 9 weeks of school left. Maybe that's enough time to think about some new rhythms for my classes, rhythms that perhaps I can put into practice more deliberately next year. Because if I don't, something's going to break, and I'm afraid it will be me!