Thursday, June 28, 2012

I'm just taking a break; I've entered the last student's grade into the database; I'm about to go to my last grading meeting; I'll eat the last CESL end-of-term lunch, etc. I am still looking at lots of books, papers, files, etc. in my office, and find it hard to get motivated to keep going through it with relentless purging. So instead I'll address a colleagues recent question: how do you keep doing this, keep it up, keep being a good teacher, with this brutal schedule?

First, I grant you, there isn't nearly enough time to do what you'd like. I myself feel that my students deserve a lot of grading and preparation on my part, but there's no way I could put in one hour for every hour I teach, and I have even been told, more or less, not to. Still, grading and preparing is relatively high on my list of priorities. I make my own exams (I make a form, b form and c form whenever necessary), make my own exercises, make students do a lot of reading and writing, and as a result I have always spent a lot of time just grading and preparing.

Keeping close track of the time you put in, it becomes more obvious that what really chews up the time is the other stuff we do: going to meetings, working with other people to get things done, giving the TOEFL, talking to students who come in really needing to pass, etc. And then there are the interminable "social hours" which, ok, students really love this, but, considering the use of a qualified person's time, has to go at the bottom of the list, since half the time I'm just standing there making small talk. And if you go to St. Louis or something like that, it's even worse: you are on the bus five hours, in the mall three or four, and still all you do is small talk. A rather poor use of a qualified person's time.

Because I put grading and preparing at the top of my list (I have always believed that is what is best for the students) I must ruthlessly defend that time from all other demands. Sure, I long ago gave up going to cultural activities at night, going anywhere on Sundays, etc. But what this really means is cutting back on the way I do coordinating assignments (I have never been considered the best coordinator/micromanager) so that I could spend more time, literally, on my own students. My stand is that the state pays me to use proper judgment in allocating my time properly; the state also allows me to go out for lunch, by the way, and to take breaks in March and December/January, and I have no complaint at all with the way the state has handled my and my family's health issues to the best that they were capable of. I give them my blood, every 40-45 hour week I've got, and in return they've given me a life, and the ability to bring up my kids. But they put me in charge of time allocation, and they told me, in so many words, there's no way you can put an hour into preparing each hour you teach.

We teachers know how to minimize our own input into a class, but that's not the idea here; if I wanted to be lazy, or, if I really had to put 30 or 40 hours into something personal, I could and I would. But I don't. Day after day, week after week, I do a lot of prep and grading, because watching them learn language is what I chose to do for a living and basically, I still love that. Tired of it, yes; sorry to be getting out, no, well, maybe a little.

I say this with one foot out the door. I've given my life to this place. I am not sorry. The washed out gray you see on the post below this is the building I see when I get out of the stairwell on my way home from work. No matter what you put on it, the gray wins. The physical plant workers have similarly mixed feelings about maintaining the environment, as I do about coming in day after day. One of the things I've been obsessed with, over the years, is the contrast between fresh leaves, the natural shape of tree branches, against the dull gray rectangular concrete shapes of the building. I kid you not. I'll give you more pix, on the way out.


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