Pain in the Butt

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There's no way for this not to sound dirty, so I will at least go with anatomical terms. Something's up with my coccyx, that vestigial tailbone we all have. I don't know what happened; I just know I woke up and found sitting extraordinarily painful and standing/walking not all that much better. I'm dosing myself with acetaminophen regularly and that's helping, if just a bit. I don't mean to get TOO personal in this blog. I only bring it up because it's not the only pain I've had today. Today I did some grading. I love teaching--no doubt about that. And I can even enjoy commenting, engaging a student's ideas and offering insights and new directions. But unfortunately commenting is all too often connected to grading in my classes, and grading is always, always a pain. It's not that I am unable to do the work of it, it's just that it IS work--hand cramped from writing or fingers achey from typing, mind stretched to its attention-span limit, the pile of papers never seeming to grow smaller. Teaching is a joy; grading is a labor. My technique for getting through it includes:
  • Asking myself beforehand what I want that assignment to achieve (for those cases where we don't already have established criteria).
  • Dividing the giant pile of papers into smaller and more manageable piles, reflecting the number I want to get through in a day or a sitting. It makes me feel like I've accomplished something when I get through a pile.
  • Reading through all the papers once before I start grading or commenting. This lets me get a sense of the whole set, gives me a chance to engage ideas without being distracted with comments, and gives me a rough sense of the grade for each paper.
  • Sorting the papers from weakest to strongest. Then I start with the weakest papers, which need more commenting and concentration. As I go on, I get more tired but the papers demand less of me too.
  • Using different colored pens. I am a huge HUGE fan of gel ink pens in cool colors. I use a different one for each paper, which gives my hand and my eyes a little break each time.
About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.