Monday, January 23, 2006


I am in the process of reading the junior research papers right now, so I thought this excerpt fit perfectly. I collected 52 papers. The average length of these papers is ten pages. It takes me 30-40 minutes to read each one. I have 23 left to grade by next Monday.

If you asked all the students in your five classes to write three hundred and fifty words each then you had 175 multiplied by 330 and that was 43,750 words you had to read, correct, evaluate and grade on evenings and weekends. That's if you were wise enough to give them only one assignment per week. You had to correct misspellings, faulty grammar, poor structure, transitions, sloppiness in general. You had to make suggestions on content and write a general comment explaining your grade....

If you gave each paper a bare five minutes you'd spend, on this one set of papers, fourteen hours and thirty-five minutes. That would amount to more than two teaching days, and the end of the weekend. You hesitate to assign book reports. They are longer and rich in plagiarism.

Every day I carried home books and papers in a fake brown leather bag. My intention was to settle into a comfortable chair and read the papers, but after a day of five classes and 175 teenagers I was not inclined to prolong that day with their work. It could wait, damn it. I deserved a glass of wine or a cup of tea. I'd get to the papers later. Yes, a nice cup of tea and a read of the paper or a walk around the neighborhood or a few minutes with my little daughter when she told me about her school and the things she did with her friend Claire. Also, I ought to scan a newspaper in order to keep up with the world. An English teacher should know what's going on. You never knew when one of your students might bring up something about foreign policy or a new Off-Broadway play. You wouldn't want to be caught up there in front of the room with your mouth going and nothing coming out.

That's the life of the high school English teacher.

The bag sat on the floor in a corner by the kitchen, never far from sight or mind, an animal, a dog waiting for attention. Its eyes followed me. I didn't want to hide it in a closet for fear I might forget completely there were papers to read and correct.

There was no point in trying to read them before dinner. I'd wait till later, help with the dishes, put my daughter to bed, get down to work. Get that bag, man. Sit on the couch where you can spread things out, put some music on the phonograph or turn on the radio. Nothing distracting. Some acoustic syrup. Music to grade papers by. Settle yourself on the couch.

Rest your head a minute before you tackle the first paper on your lap, "My Stepfather the Jerk." More teen angst. Close your eyes a moment. Ah...drift, teacher, drift...You're floating. A slight snore wakes you. Papers on the floor. Back to work....

Frank McCourt, Teacher Man


Jake Dunkin said...

Good Christ, man... As a parent of twins I'm often confronted by parents with the inquiry "How do you do it?" I find that this question is now at the "tip of my tongue" and I can't seem to stop it from working it's way down my arms and out through my fingers as they skip around the keyboard...
I can't imagine where I'd find the time to do all that grading and still keep my own life in order.

Eric said...

You find time. Or you call for a sub, take a day off school and grade all day.