Friday, February 05, 2016

I need some R&R from R&R

At a time of enrollment crisis, when classes compete for a shrinking pool of students and faculty members fear that classes will be cancelled if they don't hit the magic number, it would be crass to complain about too many students. I've taught more students in the past and I trust that I'll have more in the future, but this semester I happen to be teaching twice as many students as I did last semester when I had some unusually small classes, and I feel the difference every day.

The problem, though, is not that I have too many students; in fact, for a writing-intensive class, any number between 10 and 18 is just about perfect, and that's what I have. The problem is that all four of my classes are writing-intensive. For a prof committed to providing swift and useful feedback on student drafts, that's a lot of strain on the little grey cells, not to mention the aging eyes.

I got smart on the syllabus and didn't require all four classes to turn in drafts on the same day, which has happened in the past. But even with assignments staggered, I'm swamped: Last week I read and responded to postcolonial and American lit drafts; this week I responded to freshman comp drafts on Monday and Tuesday and graded postcolonial papers Wednesday and Thursday. Today I'll respond to online discussions in the film class. Next Monday: American lit papers. Tuesday: film drafts. Wednesday: freshman comp papers. Friday: the next round of postcolonial drafts. And it never ends. (Well, maybe never is an exaggeration. Here's a circle of Hell that Dante never knew: drafts every day--forever.)

With all those papers piling in one after another, I don't have time to enjoy them. These postcolonial papers are really interesting and the film students are knocking my socks off with their insightful online discussions. I'm a fast reader, but I still have to zip through them at the speed of light if I don't want to be up all night reading papers until my eyeballs fall right out of my head. 

The goal is to avoid getting lapped--collecting a new round of papers from students before I've returned the previous round. All the best research in teaching writing tells us that students improve when they write frequently and receive feedback quickly, so that's what we do. It's just that some weeks it feels as if that's all I do: read and respond, read and respond, R&R, R&R, R&R like a machine. 

Someday someone will invent a Reading-and-Responding Machine that will do what I do much more quickly and efficiently. Until then, feed me a paper and I'll spit out comments. Again and again and again.

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