In continuing my trend of talking about grading papers, today I’ll be discussing the process of looking at and editing these particular Research & Portfolio papers. I’m currently doing some grading, and it’s not great, but I’ve looked at these papers already so they shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. I’ve worked with these students during class and after class, helping while I can and sharing my thoughts and words with them. None of it is easy, though. I always have to grapple with helping too much, versus helping just the right amount. I also want to make sure that students appreciate the work I put in for them. It’s a constant struggle between competing needs and desires, to please or to help. If only both were possible at once.
When I first started working at this new job, I once worked with a student on his essay, only to discover that my work wasn’t what the teacher wanted. I helped him pen his thoughts onto the computer, because he wasn’t the type of student who really enjoyed typing and asked for my help. To find out that I didn’t do a good job was kind of a dagger in the heart, for a few reasons: one, because I’m really trying my best here and want to succeed as much as possible, and two, because I felt that the student I helped actually benefited from my help quite a lot. It’s one of those cases where you just have to shut up and take whatever someone else says inside you, and then put it away. You can’t expect everyone to like the work that you produce, even when it’s something you care about. Eventually someone will tear it down, and you have to persevere despite their criticisms. Everyone’s a critic these days. Everyone, it seems.
Grading papers is fun. I like examining students’ writing, I like assigning grades to them, and I like feeling like my comments will lead to some kind of educational breakthrough for students. You have to feel like your comments are useful in order to feel motivated to write them, right? Otherwise there’s no inspiration.
One habit of mine is writing lots and lots of comments. I’m very meticulous with my commenting, making sure to fill in everywhere and every thing with ink. I like to make sure that students know exactly why they got the grade they got, and I like to know that I fully read over and understood their writing. Sometimes, though, I can’t read everything; I can try and try to pore over the pages, but my eyes get all blank and foggy. Grading marathons are tedious even though they’re fun at times. They drown out every thing else from view, and you are lost with a vision of words upon words and numbers upon numbers only.
I like to grade while working on other things, like playing a round of limited in Magic: Arena or playing some ranked ladder on Hearthstone. Using games as a crutch is probably what allows grading to be enjoyable.
The advice I’ve always gotten from other teachers is to set every thing else aside, devote some time to grading, and not to fill up the essays with comments, because the kids will usually never read all of them and you’ll feel like they’re a waste. I completely understand where they’re coming from, because I distinctly remember picking up graded papers from the ground in my classroom last year, distraught at thinking of how much time I devoted to each paper only for the kids to disregard them like they were nothing. That’s just teaching for you.
My job has loads of duties. Whether it’s reading group duty, or aide duty, or Lexia oversight duty, I’m usually fulfilling one duty or another during any given day. I want to talk pretty briefly about one duty in particular though, as it’s coming up (on the day that I’m writing this) and it might be worth writing about. That duty is lunch and recess duty.
Though I only have lunch and recess duty on Thursdays, it’s still something that lingers in my head. I don’t dread it, like I do certain duties, but it’s a nice little interruption during the day to make sure that I have something to do. When it comes to duties, it definitely ranks somewhere near the top of the list of duties I don’t mind very much. That’s because a lot of it involves walking around and talking with students randomly during the afternoon, and interacting with kids is a very easy, natural thing for me. I don’t put myself out there very much, because of my anxiety when it comes to social situations, but as a teacher, I tend to be a battery for attention pretty naturally. I’ve always said that being a teacher is like being a local celebrity; you’re on people’s minds, and they remember you regardless of what you’ve done.
When I was an intern in North Haven, I had hall duty every once in a while, and my job was to sit at a desk and wait for students to pass by. I asked each one for hall passes and, occasionally, I knocked on the bathroom door to make sure students weren’t wasting their class time in the bathroom doing nothing productive. You’d be surprised how frequently that happened.
Being a teacher means accepting the duties that are given to you, and fulfilling them without complaint. And I’m completely fine with that.
Though I have been officially employed by my new school and feel infinitely more prepared and ready to take on whatever challenges may come, times have changed. I am a different person than I was six months ago, one year ago, when I worked elsewhere and needed constant reassurance that my life wasn’t falling apart. Times have indeed changed.
The new job has been good. Haven’t been given all of my responsibilities at once, thankfully, and have eased into my role and the school community and environment. I’m glad for this, as I would have a difficult time getting used to things if I was given every responsibility immediately, having to monitor the halls and complete lunch duty on the first day. We take turns holding down the fort for lunch duty, and we rotate between aides and assistants when hall or bus duty in the morning is required. The system works like a well-oiled machine; one cog takes over the other cog’s duties and vice versa, to prevent anyone from having to do the same task over and over. I like the diversity of work options, though I haven’t had much experience with them yet to say I’m a master. Being a master of anything, such as a Pokemon Master, takes time, experience, and lots of hard work. What I lack in experience I make up for in hard work, though my anxious mind sometimes demotivates me from doing things I know I should be doing, out of an unnecessary fear.
Times have changed. I work 8-4 now, and I wake up at 7:15 every day, and I go to bed before midnight every day. I eat dinner with Alex when she gets home, and I take out Angus when I get home, and if I’m feeling extra energetic or if I’m not in my sweatpants already, I take Angus out again before Alex returns. I go to the gym 3-4 times a week for at least 35 minutes a session, and on the weekends I go with Alex, usually for longer than 35 minutes. I call up my friends when they’re available to play games, otherwise I play or read or pat Angus. Though this is still the first week of my work schedule, I feel like I’ve adjusted well already, and my adjustment owes itself a lot to how I’ve eased into things, thanks to my schedule. Thanks everyone who’s been on my side and has helped make this possible, whether by reading my blog or by offering support whenever it’s needed. I seriously couldn’t be doing this without you.
Inevitably, time attracts rust. Nothing avoids it, except for ample preparation and productivity. Yet not everyone has access to those traits. Let’s talk about how corrosive unemployment can be, how it eats away at your mind and leaves you with a relic of what you once were, so that when you do inevitably return to work, you are a shade of your former working self. It takes time to rebuild habits and routines, rinsing and repeating. It takes time to make yourself a worker again, to build yourself back up after months of tearing down your self-esteem and happiness. Once a mountain erodes, it takes centuries to reform.
Being unemployed means you are always searching for a way out of being unemployed. At no point during my unemployment did I think, “I would rather stay this way than work again.” I had fun memories with friends that I wouldn’t have been able to have otherwise, but reliving my college summer vacation schedule while no one else is “on break” is not as fun as it seems. Every hour I was scrolling through and resetting my inbox to see if another application got back to me, or to hear back on an interview. There’s patience and madness in expecting an email that never comes. There’s doom and gloom in never receiving the validation you need. Being unemployed takes persistence, and it takes heart, and it takes your mind away, bit by bit. Slowly but surely. Sand castles build in your head, and they disintegrate upon close inspection; when you zoom in on any preexisting mental structure, its foundations appear shakier than they initially seem.
And yet there is always rust. After being away from work for months, actual months, is there any surprise that work can feel alien? Anxious minds gravitate toward worst-possible outcomes, as a natural way of things, and so prior to restarting work, I felt anxious that I wasn’t ready to go back, that I needed more time to prepare myself, without realizing that the longer I wait, the more rust that will build up around me. Rust from not working, from not being a 7-3 guy every day, from experiencing deep sleep and waking up whenever you feel like it, from going to CVS during the day and traveling to White Plains to get my prescription in the afternoon. So many things no longer possible, but thankfully, that phase of my life is behind me. It is time to move on, and the best way to move on is by releasing inhibitions and anxieties and just pushing forward. Pushing and pushing until something breaks.
I do not claim to be someone who asks questions well, but I am a good listener. Listening to others’ thoughts and words is the first step to asking good questions, I’ve heard. When you are paying attention to another person, you are showing them you care about what they have to say, what thoughts they are thinking. You demonstrate patience, inquisitiveness, and focus. But asking questions? That’s where it gets more finicky. A good question can inspire a conversation, a bad question can either derail a conversation entirely, leaving you forgetful about what you were just talking, or cause the other person to disengage entirely. A question can describe your personality in an instant, if the other person is astute enough. A question can also help you discover what another person wants to hear from you, allowing you to answer in accordance with their wishes.
If you can imagine what situation I am about to face, you are probably imagining a job interview, in which case you are correct. As I write this, I am preparing for an interview, as always. If you were to hazard a guess as to what I am doing almost any time, it’s thinking about an interview on the horizon. My mind does a bad job of disengaging from stressful future events, as they always hang over my head, regardless of how harmless and normal they are, even interviews. An interview, to me, feels like a fresh start with a new person, and even though I might tell myself that interviews are shared communications, that they depend on the happiness of both parties in order to succeed, I still feel indebted to the other party, sitting at the end of the table. It is ultimately their decision that makes or breaks this whole thing, and though my questions might lead them to choose me, I am not the final decision-maker.
But still, it is important to keep a clear head about things. Nothing here nor there will be the end of the world. It is just a matter of time. It always is.