Friday, October 29, 2010

Grades, grades, grades

Grades are due this week and I am in the weeds; in restaurant speak that means behind. I have graded all of my students work--in fact the grading part has been going relatively smoothly this year. I stay late a day or two a week and knock out class sets of papers or I grade on the spot, walking the room and working grades at student's elbows where I can quick have a conversation with them about their work. But while I've been able to keep up with putting marks on papers or giving students feedback, I have not been able to keep up with grades into the computer. Two days this week found me up at 4 a.m. trying to do just that. I am working as hard as I can. So what got in the way?

Teaching surely. I mean I can't ignore students during class in order to input grades in the computer right? I have to be with them, guide them, facilitate their experiences--even if students are doing discovery work in groups, I need to be in their midst, not huddled behind my monitor. So grades are behind the scenes work that I do alone.
When can I get them done? On the new 7th period schedule finding time is challenging. I have a 45 minute planning period each day. I use that period twice a week to work with a junior intern from a local university. The remaining 3 planning periods, or 135 minutes I use to grade papers from nearly 150 students. That's not even a minute a paper were I to look at it that way. Of course students generate more than 1 assignment a week that needs feedback and a grade. How can I find the time? Well, teachers also have 40 minutes of common planning time after school each day. Two of those 40 minute slots (Tuesday and Wednesday) are filled with meetings. Poetry Club on Tuesdays and professional development time on each Wednesday. Parent conferences can be scheduled Mon., Tues., or Thurs. though I have only had 4 so far this year.

Students deserve to see their progress as we go from one week to the next. Grades should never be a surprise at the end of the quarter. I'm three weeks out of date. I take responsibility for that and I have apologized to students, but am I the only responsible party? Definitley not. There have been complications. Courses were not coded correctly in the schedule. Courses with reading trained teachers need to be specially coded so that "the state" can see that the school is complying with laws that say students who score low on standardized tests in reading must be with highly qualified teachers. I'm a highly qualified teacher, but my course names in the computer did not reflect that, so the courses names needed to be changed. When did the school make the changes? Six weeks in. So at the 6 week mark, I had to spend time transferring all of my assignments, re-setting up all of my classes with categories and weights and then I had to transfer students 1 by 1 from the old class into the new class. It took about an hour and a half for each class. How many classes do I have ? Six. How many hours is that? How many weeks would 8.5 hours take me? You get the gist.

I am running out of time, paid time anyway. Lately I've been thinking a lot about how education is funded, how teachers are paid. I hear a lot of complaints from teachers at my school about how teachers are asked to do too much or about how teachers should not be expected to work "for free" outside of their contracted work time. As Gary Larsen once capture in a Far Side cartoon, working for the railroad--doesn't it seem like students are being railroaded?-- means working all the live long day after all.

You know, when you sign up to be a teacher, you devote yourself to making a difference in the lives of children. Making a difference means doing what it takes. I belive that. It's in my heart. Sometimes doing what it takes can fit into the school day, most of the time it doesn't. Nearly every profession I've peeked into or experienced vicariously through friends and relatives has some amount of take home work time or extended hours. Doctors do. Lawyers do. Engineers might. Right? Why would teaching being any different?

Okay, back to putting my grades into the computer.

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