Grading is one of those things that many academics struggle to find meaningful or enjoyable, but is required by your employer. Grading is often constrained by policies you have little influence over and deadlines you don’t control.
My work is focused on helping academics find and protect time for writing and research, without overworking. I also help you (re)connect with what makes your work meaningful, what is enjoyable about your work, and how to organize your work to prioritize those things. Meaningful and enjoyable work is still work. Not everything you do is meaningful or enjoyable, and how meaningful and enjoyable it is varies.
I’ve written about grading over the years because it has a direct effect on your ability to find and protect time for writing, and on how you feel about your career.
I’ve collected those posts together in this Spotlight, in case there is something here that helps you think differently about your own work and the demands on your time.
You may need to experiment to see how a particular suggestion might apply in your context. Something I’ve said may prompt an idea that might work well for you.
Making things even 5-10% better is worthwhile.
Grading is one task among many.
A few years ago I noticed a twitter hashtag “#GradingJail”, that seemed to sum up the feelings so many academics have about this particular part of the job. While grading might be necessary, and unpleasant, you don’t have to “jail” yourself while you do it.
That said, there is a certain point in the semester when you are no longer teaching in the classroom and grading looms larger in your workload (or seems to). I’ve used the term “grading season” to refer to this period. If you’ve been telling yourself that it’s selfish to take time for writing and research when you have teaching to do, grading extends that narrative beyond the end of scheduled teaching.
The relative importance of teaching and research varies a lot depending on the person, the kind of institution you work in, and the kind of contract you have. They are both important. I’ve written about how they complement each other in: You can ignore the grading, and Writing is not a reward for getting your grading done.
I’ve said more about the practicalities of how to do both in Do you have to finish grading before you can write? I acknowledge that the (literal or figurative) pile of grading can be a distraction, something I’ve said more about in Optimizing focus in grading season.
Of course, writing isn’t the only thing you might want to make time for. You are probably exhausted at the end of semester. Fatigue impairs cognitive function. It makes it hard to focus. You make more mistakes. You may experience it as not being able to think. Since thinking is a core part of your job, this can be distressing.
I wrote You can ignore the grading: a reprise to suggest that you can also allow yourself to rest first. Not only do you not have to push through, it might be counterproductive to do so. The grading might be easier and faster if you were more rested. Unsurprisingly, grading comes up in a couple of posts about fatigue and the need to prioritize rest, especially at the end of semester 1.
The work of grading.
Of course your ability to limit the time you spend on grading and to prioritize writing and rest alongside it, is affected by how you approach the task itself. This is partly about practicalities and partly about emotional commitments and identity.
When priorities and boundaries feel like cutting corners addresses this identity issue and provides some journaling prompts to help you work out what is essential and how you can take less time for your grading without “cutting corners”. It’s a specific example of the general principle I explain in Don’t Do Your Best!
I’ve also written about the emotional impact of seeing grades in relation to an imagined ideal. I suggest defining an average or minimum expectation and grading out from there. The frustrations of being a dedicated teacher connects this to your identity as a dedicated teacher. The emotional toll of grading covers similar ground.
As I was preparing this Spotlight, conversations about extensions seemed to be popping up a lot on Twitter. This issue highlights the emotional labour associated with grading, and the ways in which your identity as kind and compassionate affects your ability to control the work of grading.
Although I haven’t written about it, some of my clients have started to try various forms of “ungrading” and I’ve followed some interesting conversations about that on Twitter. It is worth thinking about how grading aligns (or not) with your wider values about teaching and about the university itself.
You might not be able to do much about that right now, but you can think about what you’d like to change in future.