Sometimes You’re Stuck (or, On Not Taking My Own Advice)

Just two weeks ago, I wrote about planning for the new semester, and one of my main points was that we should plan our classes and schedules to avoid having multiple assignments from different classes all coming in at the same time.  Essentially, I was arguing that there are ways of avoiding those awful weeks of grading that we’ve all had way too often.

Now, two weeks later, I’ve finalized all my syllabi, and I spent this past week handing them out.  Because of my planning, I don’t have a week of hellish grading.  No, I have two of them.  Good thing I have a blog to read to give me good ideas on how to avoid such problems.

So, what happened?  I know better than to do this, and I clearly had it in mind when I started planning my syllabi, so I should have been able to avoid this.  Essentially, I had three issues that prevented me from spreading my grading load out in the way I would want to do.

First, the spring semester is always more challenging than the fall at our school.  We have our normal week (we call it Convocation) where we’re not allowed to give major assignments (papers and tests) because the students have additional chapel services that week.  Then, just about a month after that comes Spring Break.  Then, just a few weeks later, we get both the Friday and Monday around Easter off.  For Monday, Wednesday, Friday classes–my two literature classes that lead to the heaviest grading load (due to the paper length, mainly)–that means that I just lost seven class periods.  That schedule tends to funnel all the grading toward the same spot.

We’ve all heard students complain about their assignments from different classes due at the same time.  I always joke that we have a bit meeting at the beginning of the semester where we actually plan those out, as it does seem to be well orchestrated.  Of course, it’s simply because the academic calendar pushes us toward that same schedule, and there is little we can do to avoid that.

Compounding my problem, though, is the size of my classes this semester.  Last semester, I did have a 400-level class with 27, but my 300-level class only had 11.  38 papers would be manageable for me.  This semester, though, my 300-level class has 23, and my 200-level class has 30.  53 papers sounds much more daunting than 38.  Normally, people would try to comfort me by reminding me that some students will either drop or not turn assignments in (why professors are happy about this news deserves a blog post of its own).  However, the past few times I have taught the 200-level class, no one drops, and they all turn in their major assignments, which is great.  The 300-level class is one for majors, so they should all be responsible (and, knowing most of them already, they are).

The last problem is one of my own making.  I’m on the Board for Sigma Tau Delta, and our convention is this spring.  I normally would have taken students to the convention, but the Board meets the day before the convention, which means I’ll leave on Tuesday, not Wednesday, effectively causing me to lose that entire week (my classes will still meet, as I have people to guide them while I’m gone).  Even more problematic is the fact that the convention meets the week after our Spring Break.  Thus, we’ll all be gone for a week, then I’ll be gone for almost the entire next week, which pushes us toward the end of March.

So it seems I couldn’t take my own advice, but what it really means is that, sometimes, we don’t have much room in our schedules to adjust matters.  There are issues that are out of our control, such as when breaks are scheduled or how many students we end up having in our classes or when a conference meets.  Our job is just to work around those the best we can, then dig in for those weeks where the grading load seems overwhelming.  It never is, of course, but we like to pretend that the work will likely kill us.  It won’t do that, either.

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