Today’s Goal: Grade Half of 83 Student Essays; Result: 0

I got into my office about 8:00 today with one primary objective – make a significant dent in the 83 student papers I had left to grade. My goal was to get through about half of them by 2:00, when I had some other obligations.

First though I had to take care of some faculty administrative work, which ended up taking much longer than I thought. Then there were several student emails I had to respond to that also required updating their assignment grades. After that, someone stopped by the office to chat. I then decided to stop down at the Dean’s Office to pick up a package that had been sent to me (who could resist getting a package at Christmas time!) Before I knew it, it was time for a lunch appointment I had made with another faculty member I had never met before. The lunch turned out to be a wonderful and informative conversation.

At this point, it was only a few minutes before 2:00, and I didn’t have the energy to just read one or two of the essays; I figured what’s the point. So I went back to the mindless work of checking and responding to my email for a few minutes, and then it was time to move on.

So much for my lofty goals; I had not read a single paper in that six-hour time period.

This is not the first time this has happened. And each time it does happen, I say to myself, ‘next time, just grade a few at a time each day; don’t try to get a lot of the grading done at once. Before you know it, you’ll be finished.’ But most times, I settle into my old habit, and it ends up taking longer than it should have.

Part of it is that I know the work will get done; this is my 63rd semester teaching (not counting summers), and I’ve always gotten the work done before the grading deadline (good thing there’s a deadline!)

I also know that if I only had 15 papers to grade, I would have gotten them all finished today. I don’t know why I just can’t act as if that’s all I had to grade, even if I had 83. 15 here, 15 there, and before you know it, I’d be done. But I just keep thinking about that big number, and sometimes I just can’t get started.

I wish there was some psychological term for it, but I don’t think there is. But I do fear there are a couple of words that describe my behavior – lazy and unmotivated.

But tomorrow’s another day. I’ll start the day with the same goal, but in the back of mind I’ll be thinking, ‘if only I had done 15 yesterday, I’d only have 68 left today.’

Fortunately the clock is ticking, and the papers have to get graded. So at some point the motivation will kick in, and I’ll get in the zone where the work just starts flowing. And before I know it, the papers will be finished.

And at that point I’ll spend a few moments congratulating myself but then I’ll start telling myself, ‘next time…’

And the cycle continues…

image from Steve Keating

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