Friday, October 23, 2009

New Teacher Tip #4

Continued from "Things I wish someone had told me before I started teaching (or maybe they did and I just didn't listen)"

Tip #4: Know Your Limits

When I started teaching, I couldn't imagine giving any assignment that was important enough for my students to complete but not important enough for me to grade. I also couldn't imagine "wasting" class time by having my students grade their own or each other's work. As a result, I frequently spent 11-12 hours in my classroom every day, and I'd still go home at night hauling a tote bag full of student papers that I knew I was too exhausted and overwhelmed to deal with. Still, I hauled it everywhere with me "just in case." At some point, probably when I was at the height of my depression over not being able to accomplish all that I wanted to do, my mentor teacher staged a valuable intervention. She told me several important things: sometimes homework is just practice, and there can be value to students in completing tasks whether it's graded or not. Spending class time going over homework or allowing students to grade themselves builds their ability to assess their own progress, and those self-assessment skills are important. Sometimes it's okay to grade based on completion. Other times, you might just want to pick five problems from a page to grade rather than doing the whole thing. When you have a class of 30 students, even if you can grade each paper in less than a minute (which is pretty ambitious sometimes), you're committing to 30 minutes of work for yourself. That adds up faster than you think. Prioritize what you want or need to grade, provide good commentary on the papers you do tackle, and forgive yourself for not having the time in the day to grade every bit of effort the student provides. You can only do so much.

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