Five Tips for Efficiently Tackling the English Teacher Workload

As a high school English teacher that has four classes of IB juniors and a class of TOK (an IB philosophy-ish class) kids, I am constantly swamped with grading. My students write timed essays in class every other week and have process piece essays they do at home every six weeks. Plus all the other assignments and assessments. Combine this with my domestic obligations, hobbies, and social life and you'll see why I'm always one step away from being committed for exhaustion.

After a rough winter term, where I was always so behind, I decided to kick it into high gear spring semester so that I would never feel utterly buried. And you know what? It basically worked. Sure, I was never fully caught up, but I was in a much better place that I've ever been since teaching these classes (this was my eleventh year teaching, my seventh year teaching high school, and my fifth year teaching IB classes). My students were getting papers back faster, my stress level was down, and my semester grades were submitted as soon as the last student day was completed (we have twenty-four hours after that). And here's what I did to make it so:

A Grading Calendar
What it is: I mention this constantly because it is the hugest contributor towards my success. And it's so simple! I print a four to six week blank grid out and every time I assign something I write the name of the assignment on the bottom of the page and then assign myself the days in which I am to grade it, and really, really try to stick with it. I am pretty much always within a day or two from where I want to be and once in awhile I am even ahead (for example, if I assign myself to grade period 2's and 3's tests on Monday and 5's and 6's on Tuesday, but I end up doing some of Tuesday's work on Monday).

Why it works: It's a great visual of the work ahead and, most importantly, it's realistic. If I know that I have plans on Thursday night after work, I'm going to go light on what I assign myself to grade that day. (see picture above)

Personal Timed Write Passages
What it is: My students do timed writes every other week, meaning they either have a prompt or a passage to analyze. I find the prompts easier to grade, but the passages take me forever to get through! This semester I have been pulling passages from the books I am currently reading at home, or have recently (like The Underground Railroad, Exit West, and even Ready Player One).

Why it works: I have a much better, stronger relationship with the text that allows grading to be done much easier. Plus, it's interesting to see the kids' take on it, knowing that they are just receiving a page or so. Many of my kids also have used some of these for their outside reading selections, which makes it easier for me to interview them about later. 

Living and Dying by Checklists and Rubrics
What it is: I comment very little on my students' timed writes (their process pieces I do much more on), instead using a detailed checklist for specific errors and area of concern and the IB rubric that focuses more on content. I do always comment on their thesis, though. 

Why it works: I allow my students to rewrite their essays for a few extra credit points, so this makes it so they aren't just copying my comments during the revision process. So instead of  fixing every issue they have, this forces them to use the check list and rubric, and to come and talk to me. What's also great about the checklist is that you can tailor it to your class and adjust it as you see fewer, or more, problems in a certain area. 

The Buffer Day
What it is: I try to schedule one day at the end of each book we read (every six weeks or so) so that the students can catch up on their notebooks that are due on the day of the test, can talk to me about any issues they have (their writing, issues with a grade on an assignment, a group work proposal, etc...), can make progress on a class essay or project, etc... It's on their calendar and I remind them ahead of time so that they can come prepared. 

Why it works: Most of the time the students will occupy less than twenty minutes of my time, so while they are working I can too. I get up and roam around the room every five or ten minutes to make sure they're on track, but then I can knock out a few essays as well. They know what the buffer day (that's what we call it) and appreciate the time to also get caught up. It really is a reward, and they know I can take it away, so they all pretty much utilize it correctly (and then I can too!). 

The Forest App
What it is: An app (I think it was $2) that allows you to grow a little forest of trees each day, in exchange for not disturbing your phone. You get to decide how long (ten minutes to two hours) and if you are successful in not using any other apps you get a tree, which is added to your forest. If you do text or check Instagram your poor little tree dies. You earn coins for successful blocks of time that you can save to unlock other trees with or donate towards planting real trees.

Why it works: I often get really distracted by my phone when grading essays, so this has been an absolute lifesaver the past few weeks when trying to make it to the end. I also use it at home when I want to focus on Sawyer, read a book without interruption and I also sometimes set it at night to discourage social media in bed. 

1 comment:

  1. I am totally fascinated by the way teachers structure their days and tackle their respective work loads. Love, love, love this!