I realize this post is going to make all my fellow-academics hate me, or at least all those still buried under piles of student essays. But I've discovered that, under the right circumstances, I kinda enjoy grading papers.
I know! Grading is supposed to be the worst part of teaching. And mostly it is. But I seem to have finally figured out what I loathe most about grading; what I don't mind about grading; and what I find moderately pleasurable about grading. That's allowed me to structure my grading to maximize the satisfactions and minimize the agony.
So here's the deal: though the studentliness of student writing can be a drag--the fact that any given group will always display more or less the same collection of weaknesses, and that I have to make the same comments over and over again--I'm not really bothered by that when I don't get bogged down in it. It's the bogged-downness that I hate: I hate having a stack of essays sitting around for ages. I hate feeling behind in my grading and returning shit late. And I REALLY hate it when grading papers takes over my life for an entire weekend--or an entire week, or 10 days, or whatever. I hate it when it takes me three hours to grade three papers and I get lost in irritation at myself and at students just for doing the things that students do.
This semester, because I've been so busy, I haven't been able to grade in the spread-out manner that I usually attempt: four or six or eight papers a day. Instead, I've been grading sixteen or eighteen papers in one day (and if the class is bigger than that, I do the excess the night before or the morning after). I block out an entire day, with no other prep to do, and I sit down with the kitchen timer and crank 'em out in 20 minutes apiece. I may have music playing, but I don't listen to the radio, I don't have my laptop open, and I don't have my phone within reach. Every six papers or so, I take a break.
And with that combination of pressure and leisure (the papers must be returned tomorrow! but there's nothing else I have to do), I get good, focused work done. I don't get too exasperated with any one paper, because there's not time. I can clearly see what a given class needs more instruction on, and my grades are probably more consistent. The "done" pile grows steadily as I make a second pot of coffee and adjust the cat asleep with its head on my lap.
And then I'm done. I dance around the house and feel ridiculously pleased with myself. The next day I return the lot of 'em, and I'm blissfully free of papers for a week or maybe two.
Partly, I've just aligned my habits to my natural work preferences: I've always had a tendency toward immersion and completion, and I prefer doing things in sequence rather than in parallel, as the engineers say. But I suspect that the pleasure I take in immersive tasks has increased as my daily life has gained in distractions: focusing on just one thing, for hours at a time, has come to feel like a real luxury. The piddling bits and bobs of work that fill most my days--a meeting here, a lesson plan there; a student conference, some administrative paperwork--leave me feeling drained and exhausted and as if I've gotten nothing material done. It's nice to devote a day to highly concentrated intellectual labor, even if it's not my own work. And swooping in and getting shit done feels like a victory over chaos and disorder.
Readers: have you made peace with grading? And if so, how?