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Three Reasons You Dread Grading (and what to do about them)

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I don’t know very many academics who look forward to grading. In fact, you don’t have to look too far this time of year to find someone complaining, procrastinating, or dreading it. Understanding what drives your own grading behavior can help you adjust it to make this time of semester more pleasant and productive.

1. Grading overloads your already full schedule.

Most academics I’ve talked to experience grading as an extra burden on their already full schedules of teaching, research, and administrative or service duties. If your days (and sometimes nights) are already filled with professional commitments, it can be really difficult to find quality time and energy to give to grading.

Since you do usually know when to expect this extra workload, it’s really helpful to plan for it by consciously adjusting your schedule. Maybe that means blocking out six to ten hours on your calendar during weeks when your students’ papers are due and not agreeing to committee meetings during that time. Maybe that means arranging to have extra help with eldercare or childcare during those times so that you’ll be able to grade. Just adding to an already full schedule won’t work. So ask yourself “what do I need to give up in order to get the grading done?” and pay attention to whatever answer comes up.

2. Grading raises your anxiety.

Evaluating student performance on assignments and exams can cause even seasoned instructors to feel doubts about their teaching ability. If students do well on your exam, do you take credit for their learning? If students do poorly, do you blame yourself? Which group of students do you pay more attention to as you calculate final grades? Of course, student performance is always affected by a number of factors outside the instructor’s control. But even knowing this, many instructors experience grades as reflections of their own performance.

Additionally, many academics feel anxiety about how the grades they assign will be perceived by their colleagues or superiors. You may be required to grade with certain rubrics or to fit your grades to a standard curve. You may feel that the grading standards of your administrative unit do not fit your own teaching philosophy or your discipline.

Finally, many instructors feel anxious about anticipating student responses to grades. You may expect to be challenged about the grades you assign or be concerned that students will not want to enroll in your future courses.

If you suspect that your procrastination or dread about grading is fueled by anxiety, try tackling your anxiety head-on. Simply naming your anxiety for what it is can help relax its grip on your mind. If it still affects you, try asking yourself: Is this anxiety realistic? When have I dealt with something like this before? What happened? What did I learn from that experience? How can I learn from this experience, however it unfolds?

3. You have a negative grading story.

The perceptual frameworks we bring to any situation — the story we tell ourselves about it — shape our experience of the situation. So if you keep telling yourself that you will feel bored, disappointed, or deprived while grading, you probably will. Just pay attention to how you talk about grading, either in your head, or in actual conversation. I’ve often heard conversations about grading that are like the classic Monty Python sketch of Four Yorkshiremen. “You’ve only got 50 papers to grade? Well, I’ve got . . .”

Tackle your anticipation of deprivation directly by planning to take breaks that are truly restorative and enjoyable. Don’t take a 15 minute break from grading and spend it checking email (unless that’s truly your idea of fun) — read a few pages of a novel, go for a quick walk, or listen to great music. Using a timer to pace yourself during grading and for taking breaks can help to keep your energy up and your attitude more positive.

How do you keep a positive attitude in the face of end of term grading? Let us know in the comments!

[Creative Commons licensed image by Flickr user Kristine Paulus]

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