Fear and loathing on the essay trail…

I’ve been teaching English for almost 23 years, and I’ve recently self-diagnosed myself with a serious case of EGADD. This is no joke- it is real, and it threatens to ruin me as an English teacher. Essay Grading Attention Deficit Disorder is something most teachers are ashamed to speak of, for fear of being chastised by their Shakespeare quoting peers! “Oh, some strange commotion is in his brain!” (Henry VIII).

My EGADD kicks in as soon as I gaze down at the stacks of papers in my school bag. I feel the more alarming side effects begin- increased heartbeat, sweating, and heightened anxiety. I think about the time will need to “create” in my spare time, and my head begins to spin. I start planning how and when I might squeeze these essays in to my very busy life outside of school. I try to start grading them the moment I get home from my regular 10- hour day, but EGADD strikes almost immediately.

I sit down at my home desk, at the front of the house, away from the family. It is nearly 5:00pm. I clear a space and try to figure out if I should begin with the “better writers” or those needing more “help”. I notice that I don’t have a drink of water, and I suddenly feel as parched as if I just scaled the side of a mountain in the middle of July. I tell myself to just grade one essay and then go get the water, but my thirst overcomes me. It drags me to the kitchen.

In the kitchen, I realize that my tumbler is upstairs by my bed. I am vigilant about reusing the same cup- rather than continually washing cups- so I dash upstairs to retrieve it. Unfortunately, it isn’t by my bed; it is in my bathroom. I pick it up and realize that it sat  atop a sticker I bought for my suitcase. My brain is at once in an EGADD turmoil: I should go back down to those essays, but I run the risk of misplacing the sticker before it ever makes it to my favorite suitcase. I pick up the sticker and put it in my back pocket while I pull down the attic stairs. I climb up  and attach the sticker in just the right spot. I smile, because the sticker reminds me of my last trip.

I go back to my bathroom, grab my tumbler, and head back downstairs. I glance at my essay-laden desk on my way to the kitchen, reminding myself of where my focus needs to be. I manage to put ice in my cup before scanning the counter for the day’s mail. I don’t see it and wonder if anyone got it. I also note that the dog food bowls have been licked clean. “EGADD,” I think.”I really need to get to those essays, but these poor pups have no food.” I swiftly move to fill the bowls, only to realize we are completely out of dog food. A trip to the local Kroger is imminent.

When I finally return home, after getting sustenance for my two four-legged babies, I note the time- 6:00pm… time to cook dinner. I run to my front desk to get a stack of essays, confident that I can grade a few whilst the water boils. Two of my three kids make their way down to the kitchen to inquire about dinner. I look at them, and think to myself, “Jeez, they are getting so big. I need to really cherish these days with them.” Forgetting the essays on the counter, I engage in family talk while I cook.

After dinner, I announce that I will not be joining the family for any TV time; I’ve got to grade papers… for at least a couple hours. I finally return to my desk, determined to get through half a class worth.I read through the first one, and it is pretty good. I note some comma errors and suggest smoother transitions. I comment that the “vignette” about the dog eating the turkey cracked me up. EGADD jabs me when I start thinking of the time I caught my own dog up on the table licking the spills.

It takes me 8 minutes to grade that one essay, and that is a good one. It received a 92. In typical EGADD style, I stop and think about those 8 minutes. A paper with more errors and more content issues might take me upwards of 13-15 minutes. I have 120 of them. If I average 12 minutes per essay, that’s 1440 minutes, which is 24 hours. EGADD has brought me to the edge: I’m practicing math computation. I feel my illness creeping into my throat. I open my calendar to look at what I have going for the week ahead. Each day has me booked with family responsibilities, which I enjoy to the max. I tell myself I just have to plug along. Take a deep breath. Practice relaxation breathing.

I look to the next essay. I know this writer; he practices the “anti-punctuation” religion. I force my eyes on the page, my pen armed and ready to make sense of unintentional stream of consciousness. I get through it, but it is torturous. A week passes and I’ve graded 23 essays. My ears ring with the chirp of students asking for these essays. Mine is the plight of English teachers across the map. Perhaps there’s a support group for fellow EGADD sufferers?

EGADD,” I think. “How will I finish before the next batch of essays come in?”

And then I start thinking of summer. And cool weather. And lobsters… EGADD!

-HC

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