Sunday, January 15, 2012

Avoiding the Flu

I'm 20 years into my teaching career, and after the last batch of essays I corrected before winter break, I realized I might have finally figured out how to get them all done and not feel like I'd been run over by a Mack truck in the process. You may be thinking, "Don't we reserve that Mack truck metaphor for the flu?!" Or you may be thinking, "Hey, that's how I feel after correcting, too!!" Well, assessing papers, tests, quizzes, homework, projects, and labs is flu-like, or at least, it can be. Here's how I avoid catching the bug:

I remember that I am susceptible, and I prepare. Every fall, I line up with my colleagues at our local firehouse, roll up my sleeve, and receive my yearly flu shot. Likewise, I prepare for correcting, too; I schedule long-term assignments not only in line with the curriculum, but also in line with my life outside of school (this can be a bit tricky, and may require some creative manipulation - of what, I will let you determine). And then I reserve those weekends, or those evenings, for correcting. This is a part of teaching that the rest of the world doesn't see (unless you've got a teacher in your family), and a part that some of us seem to resent, but weekend and nightly work is how I validate my summers off. And this way, I can reserve long weekends for myself if I wish (or use that extra day for correcting, sometimes), or specific nights to be work-free, or times around holidays left open for celebration. I try not to be caught unawares, but rather girded for the long haul.

I have seen the enemy, and it is I. During flu season, I wash my hands frequently and use the hand sanitizer I keep on my desk. I stay rested, take my vitamins (I swear they help), and steer clear of sneezers and coughers as much as possible. When I know I have correcting to do, I try to do the same - I recognize what will bring me down, and I avoid the pitfalls. To avoid procrastination (a paradox of sorts), I do some math (uh oh) and create a written schedule: by noon, then by 3:00 pm, then by dinner, I will have corrected x number of papers. I look at it frequently (often, admittedly, to double- or triple-check that I divided correctly). To avoid the achy frustration that comes after the fifth essay in a row isn't formatted properly, I find the essays that are, and I correct one or two of those. And to avoid the spiky fever of overwork, I set up a reward system: after x number of essays, I will take a walk, or eat my lunch, or read this or listen to this.

And when I'm done, I feel this incredible surge of energy, sort of like how I feel when I get through another week or month without getting what's going around. I might even praise myself out loud, or high-five myself in the mirror, or dance around a bit. It's a combination of oh-thank-goodness and damn-I'm-good. There's a heavy emphasis on relief, with some wood-knocking for future endeavors; I wouldn't want to be over-confident, ever. That's exactly when I'll get run over by that Mack truck, which I'm trying to avoid... like the plague.

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