This week, from this moment last week until now, has been grueling. Besides all the classes themselves and the life business of being a fiance, a cat mom, and a person who likes a clean kitchen, since roughly 3pm last Tuesday, I have graded three sets of class papers, started a fourth set, commented on thesis statements and proposed outlines for the next drafts, graded some online quizzes and in-class daily assignments, suffered through the stress of handing back the poorer first-assignments, and hemmed and hawed through class preparation, TA-meetings, all-college meetings, and the sad Bears game on Sunday. This is nothing new, and to many teachers, this is really nothing new, nothing unique about which to complain. What is different is me.
Six years ago, I wouldn’t be taking this small amount of time out of my day–still in my sweat pants T-minus 2 hours from class and counting–to even reflect on my mental state. As soon as I would have put down one assignment set, I’d automatically grab the next and force myself to squeeze every minute until my next class or meeting into grading productivity, knowing it was futile. Knowing there is no way I would spontaneously learn how to thoughtfully comment on each draft in one fourth of the time. Knowing that even though I might get through one or two more papers before forcing myself to put on professional-esque clothes and get to campus, I’m still going to be up as late as it takes to get all of the rest finished after all the students have left campus and I’m left alone with my coffee cup and a pen.
But not this week. Even though [I still haven’t finished class prep for tomorrow] I will need to teach class for three hours yet today, and even though I have 16 papers left to grade before 10am, some baked goods to make for a noon meeting, a proposal to plan for the Art Department visit that is double booked with the noon meeting tomorrow, and a cat meowing at my ankle, I have finally arrived at that special place in every professor’s trajectory where (sleep + health) > the grading deadline. Writing is about my health these days. It’s not a necessity, and it certainly isn’t art. And that’s okay too.
And of course, as I type this, my mind is ever negotiating time and the physics of how much I will get done before I allow myself to sleep tonight. I might get it all done. (And it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve given into grades-are-more-important-than-you mantra that slipped in when we teachers let our guards down.) But I’m, in the immortal words of Elizabeth Bishop, Write It!, going to be okay with taking half an hour today to not grade. To watch the minutes go by and see the giant stack of grading inescapable but not ineffable or incapacitating.