When will that assignment be graded?

Students and parents often email questioning when an assignment might be graded.  I always wonder what the motive is in such a request.  Are they genuinely interested in progress? Are they curious about what standards have been met?  Or, are they concerned primarily with “the grade”?  

Here is a list of reasons why grading might not yet be finished:

  1. A family emergency.  As of today, this is my case.  Just this year, at least two of my colleagues have been called away for emergency situations at home.
  2. A major event at the school.  Being involved in a planned activity at the school requires after-school hours.  For me this was true due to preparation for the Science Fair.  Many extra hours were spent in preparation for that night.  Our school hosted a NECIS tournament this week and many teachers were involved with that.  We’ve hosted conferences at our school as well.  All of these types of occasions draw on teachers’ time and energy.
  3. Extra-curricular activities.  Many teachers coach after school.  This involves not only the time of practice (and games) but also the set-up and making sure the school is secure following.  IB teachers often hold extra sessions after school, again requiring lesson preparation time in addition to the after school time.  Currently, I am planning a research trip to South Africa with ten students taking place in June.  An inordinate amount of after school time is invested in planning and preparing for such an adventure.
  4. If the teacher is an IB teacher, Internal Assessment time and exam time is a very stressful and labor-intensive period, requiring many after-school hours.  
  5. Lab Prep.  Science teachers spend hours and hours researching, ordering, and preparing for regular lab work.  Often I spend several hours trouble-shooting a lab or preparing solutions or hunting down supplies.
  6. Staff, Departmental, IB, IMYC, and spontaneous Meetings.  Need I say more about this?
  7. Parent or Student Meetings.  Often I will meet with students and/or parents after-school.
  8. Reading and answering emails.  My day keeps me booked from 7:00 – 16:00 each day, often without taking a break.  It is common for me to not even see emails until after dinnertime.
  9. Planning Lessons.  Obviously, if the course is new, there is a lot of time spent in this area.  This year in my MS classes we have added a new curriculum.  Furthermore, I have taken on the Environmental Systems and Societies course.  A lesson is never perfect.  So often, even if I’ve taught a given unit, I spend time finding better resources or brainstorming a more effective way to present a concept.
  10. Writing assessments.  As with lesson planning, I’m constantly trying to improve on the assessments I give.
  11. Planning for differentiation for learning support and EAL students. Often a lesson has to be reconsidered when there are new learning needs in a classroom.  Personally, I invest a lot of time considering the special needs (both on the lower and higher functioning ends) in my classroom.
  12. Wait, can I admit I have a life too and my family actually might need my attention? Or, I need to exercise?  Or I need to run errands or cook or take care of personal needs?

Despite all of these factors, often my grading is completed in a timely fashion.  However, my favorite reason for ungraded work is the following:

  1. The work was LATE!  Sometimes even a month late.  Like I explain in class, work turned in late gets graded late.  If you’re a month late, well I get at least a month to grade it!  It takes a lot of time to grade a late assignment. It breaks up my routine.  It’s out of context with what is going on in any of my classes.  The rubric needs to be located and consulted and I need to get back into the “zone” of that assignment. Sometimes I need to simply psyche myself up to it.  And if it’s poor quality, you can add some more time to the entire process.

Keep in mind, the formative assessment I’ve been doing in class let’s me know how a student is doing, along with the rest of the class, dictating the direction of the class and the additional preparations I might need to make in order to guide students in their learning journey. 

Never do I plan or like to have a back up of grading and I have been known to stay up until midnight or later to limit that reality.   However, sometimes I’m just not up to another late night.

In the end, the universal principle of prioritization applies to teachers as well as to the rest of the world.  Each day we simply choose what is most important.  I evaluate what I need to do on a given day to make the next day of teaching most effective.  I consider formative assessment from the day, then lesson planning, lab prep, additional assessments, and grading.   I always ask myself, what needs to happen to further learning in the classroom.  How do you prioritize your days?