Saturday, October 4, 2014

Time management I: Grading

I’m now in my fourth year of teaching … and I’m finally beginning to get a grip on this time management business. This is a fairly typical problem for new professors. Faculty members have plenty of immediate demands on their time (show up for class, respond to this urgent email), and it’s easy for less deadline-driven work such as grading and research to slide - particularly research.

My institution does not have a high research requirement, and I’m still working through the problem of fitting it in. My current technique is to wait until there is a deadline, a strategy we all know to be perilous. I have, however, finally figured out how to keep up with grading, a not insignificant problem for anyone teaching five classes without a TA.

In the end, there are two techniques that have worked for me, although I they many not work for everyone. First, at the beginning of the semester I put each assignment to be graded on my schedule. Each assignment is supposed to be graded within a week of being turned in, but I can’t grade too much on one day, or at all on any day with a heavy teaching load. This kind of planning balances my workload and insures no assignment is forgotten. Second, I have a wall calendar, and every time I finish grading an assignment, I get a sticker on that day.

Yes, I said sticker. As in, the way we motivate pre-schoolers to do their chores and use the potty.

It works for me because it makes me visibly accountable. Realistically, my colleagues aren’t checking up on me, but they could if they wanted to. And while I could draw x’s instead, stickers are more attractive. Right now, I have sparkly stars. It’s much cheaper than rewarding myself with a latte.

In the past, I’ve tried other things with less success. For example, I tried a policy of grading one assignment every day. That didn’t work so well on busy days. I tried a whiteboard with a list of to-be-graded assignments, which was only moderately successful: The list tended to get too long and too discouraging.

Grading, of course, is only one part of my job. Next up: Taming the endless task.

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