How long does it take to grade 88 personal narrative essays?

As I said in my last post, I will keep track of how long it takes me to grade 88 personal narrative essays.

I’m starting to write this at 6:52 pm on Friday, October 21. I’ll publish this post when the last paper is graded. In between I’ll log the time I spend.

I started grading this morning while my students wrote in-class essays in the writing lab today. I was able to use about the middle 20 minutes of class in each class period (there were three of them) to grade a couple of essays. During the beginning and end of each class, I circulated around the lab to make sure all was well for everyone, trouble shooted frustrations with the ancient computers in the lab, helped students find the resources they needed from my web page, answered questions, cheered them on, convinced my football players they could actually focus today on writing despite how distracted they were by tonight’s match-up with their cross-town rival. (we’re up 17-0 at half time) (I know this because of the twitter stream that my newspaper staff uses to tweet the scores from games).

SO, in about one hour total time, I graded six essays during school today.

After my last class (I have the last period of the day off), I left school as soon as I could and headed down town to a cafe to grade. I got here at about 3pm. It’s now nearly 7pm. I’ve graded 25 essays in those three and 3/4 hours (I’ve been on a burrito break for the last 15 minutes or so).

These essays are going faster than the last ones–those were critical essays about a book. These are personal narratives, and short ones too (no more than 500 words–to practice what is usually asked of writers with the college application essay). I’m also only focusing on ONE mechanical area: comma use surrounding the issues of run-on sentences. That’s been our grammar focus since I finished grading their last papers (which showed a critical need to review the rules of commas).

So a few things are speeding me up here: shorter essays, stories instead of critical arguments, and the permission to ignore any grammatical errors unrelated to our current focus.

The burrito is gone so my break is over. Five more essays and one class period is DONE. I’ve only got until the football game is over and my husband and kiddo come by to pick me up.

Running total: 31 essays, 4 hours and 45 minutes

8:50 pm: In the last hour and 50 minutes, I’ve graded 12 more (including finishing 3rd hour totally), and now my family is here so I need to stop and go home. As I got tired, I slowed down…brain doesn’t work as efficiently when tired…

Just to be clear–I’ve just spent five and a half hours–on a Friday night–grading.

Oh, and my school beat the cross town rival 38 to 3.

Running total: 43 essays, 6 hours and 35 minutes

9:42 pm: Just got home and got my daughter in bed. I will give it one more hour tonight–let’s see how many I can grade in one hour…

10:50 pm: Ten. I graded ten in that hour (and 8 minutes). Now to bed.

Running total: 53 essays, 7 hours and 43 minutes.

Saturday, October 22, 1:18 pm: I’ve just sat down at a different cafe, hoping to cover some grading ground today in the 2 and a half or so hours I have before I need to go pick up my daughter…

3:52 pm: Time to wrap up for the day. My daughter and I are heading up north this evening to see the state marching band championships. I was slowed down today by computer issues–needed to do software updates that took a while and interrupted my ability to use a web browser. Regardless, I graded 16 essays in 2 hours, 34 minutes.

Running total: 69 essays, 10 hours 17 minutes.

Sunday, October 23, 4:02pm: Today I’ve been working on my editorial responsibilities for the journal that I edit, but I wish to get a few essays out of the way. If I can get them all finished by some time tomorrow, then I should be able to tackle my students’ summary/response essays by the end of the week (grading on those goes comparatively quickly due to the task having a different purpose and the use of a different kind of rubric), and then I might be looking at a weekend next weekend without grading. That could be really good because I need time to layout the pages of this journal that I edit and we haven’t been to the pumpkin patch yet… so here I go…

5:03 pm: I just graded seven essays. Time to switch some laundry and get on with dinner and other Sunday evening items. But I’m so close here to being finished with all 88… maybe I can make it?

Running total: 77 essays, 11 hours 18 minutes. 

5:13 pm: laundry’s still running; family’s not home yet. I will grade some more…

5:35 pm: family’s home. Time to stop for a bit. Graded three.

Running total: 80 essays, 11 hours, 40 minutes.

8:08 pm: sitting down for a bit to grade.

8:25 pm: graded one–now off to say good night to my kid.

8:44 pm: back at the dining room to grade.

9:16 pm: five more essays done. ALL the essays done! (except for the two that haven’t yet come in).

Grand total: 86 essays, 12 hours, 29 minutes.

Whew. That’s a lot of time in front of my computer over the space of three days and outside of my work week since these hours were taken from my Friday afternoon/evening, my Saturday afternoon, and my Sunday evening.

And I know that these essays went faster than usual because of my narrower focus for mechanics, the word limit I gave my students (500ish words), and the fact that the essays are narratives. When it comes to research papers I’m looking at significantly more time. Those are 4 to 5 pages each with 10 sources where I have to check how accurately students are citing their research and evaluate the overall structure of their arguments, their body paragraph organization, how well they’re using data to support their ideas, etc… I remember spending 30 to 45 minutes on each 7 to 10 page literary research paper I got from my AP literature students in Illinois. Luckily my classes were smaller there (no more than 15 students in each). I never had more than 45 total AP Lit students, spread across three sections.

I’ve conquered these papers, but there are 88 summary/response essays awaiting me too. And a week from Friday there will be 88 position analysis papers. And then right before the Thanksgiving break, 88 research paper rough drafts for me to respond to. So my feeling of victory will be somewhat short-lived.

If only I taught maybe three classes total instead of five and was still considered full time. Maybe then I could actually get most of this grading done within my work week. (My colleagues who have cut back to part time with only three classes and only part-time pay report that they are still putting in full time hours to get the work done). I’m not expecting to never have work to bring home–but 12 and a half hours on many weekends and a couple hours most evenings seems a little extreme. I’m lucky that I’ve been teaching long enough that my curriculum planning happens relatively efficiently. I’m able to get that done in my off periods at school. But that’s really all I can get done in my off periods of school. So my job gives me adequate time to plan but not adequate time to meaningfully evaluate my students’ work…if only I got paid for all these extra hours. The pay would be significant.

But I don’t want more money.

I just want the time to do my job well and not have to pull so many hours from my life beyond school.

Is that too much to ask?


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2 Responses to How long does it take to grade 88 personal narrative essays?

  1. Jill Schneider says:

    Thanks for all your hard work. I’m getting them at later stages, and I wish more were comma-qualified!

  2. JWD says:

    From two years in the future, I’m thanking you for highlighting one of the most — perhaps the most — difficult aspects of teaching English. Also, thanks for your hard work as a teacher; I know it often seems like a thankless task.
    I found your post after searching “how long does it take to grade an essay” after my administrator chastised me for taking too long with my grading. She believes that an essay can be graded — with corrections and comments — in as little as 5 minutes, which is perhaps sometimes possible, but I’m thinking 10-15 minutes is a better average.
    Anyway, thanks for the good read.

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