Sunday, 11 November 2012

Too much, too soon

I've taken on far too much work. But the seasonal nature of my job (university general teaching assistant) means that what I earn in three months has to last me the whole year. And this year, not wanting to be parasitic on my new love, I felt unable to say no to everything that was offered. So I'm teaching three courses: my usual one; a political philosophy course, and academic writing skills. This is still not full time hours, but the travelling and time between classes makes it feel like it is. And now I have a huge pile of essays to mark, which is killing me.

My problem here is that I'm working with someone else's material, so when a student uses a term, or launches off on a discussion about something, I'm unfamiliar with I can't assume they've made it up, and have to scour the course reading to see if it exists. I don't want to penalise someone for my own shortcomings. This means it can take hours to mark an essay that someone who knows the subject intimately could mark in forty minutes. And it means I don't get paid for nearly the hours I put in. I can hardly charge the university for my lack of knowledge. Though, of course, I inevitably find the term, or discussion topic, isn't in the reading material. But what if the student has read books I haven't? What if they have read round the subject and gone much deeper than I have?

All this marking has to be done at my desk between the back of Dave's tv and the window in the sitting room, because feedback has to be typed onto a specific 'feedback sheet'. So I can't do it between classes, GTAs don't have offices and I don't have a lap-top I could work on in the car or coffee bar, and have to wait till I'm at home in the evenings (and at the weekend (I should be doing it now!)).

I had the day off on Friday. The class I teach on Fridays is having a 'reading week'. I planned to spend the whole day marking so that by now (Sunday afternoon) I could start work on lesson plans for the rest of the week. So, what did I do?

Because I've been working on Fridays I haven't been going to the music sessions in the Bull of Thursday nights. Dave hasn't been going either (not because of me), but he decided to go this (last?) week. And I went too. And it was so nice: the music, the buzz, the delight on people's faces to see us again after so long. The white wine spritzers. The red wine someone brought back to our house after the session... It's safe to say that I let of steam. Too much of it, and too long before I really should have.

The eye-popping, gut-scrunching hangover the next day wasn't so nice. Nor was it conducive to marking essays on the effectiveness of Monbiot's argument from analogy and use of authority in the article...

Last night I was up till 3am trying to catch up. I failed.

This morning I worked on making sure I was as familiar with the material as I possibly could be, and that I understood every possible way Monbiot's arguments could be interpreted by eager, unpractised students.

Now I am going to get on with the job of preparing a plan for tomorrow's class, and then I'll start on the essays once more. Probably I'll get everything done. Maybe I won't, and if I don't maybe the university will never employ me again. And if the university never employs me again maybe Dave will identify me as a parasite and throw me out of his house. And if Dave identifies me as a parasite and throws me out of his house I'll still have had the wonderful experience of being loved by him all this time. And a great night last Thursday.

My desk the morning after a similarly raucous, but nowhere near as affecting, night. Sometimes I can handle it, sometimes I can't. 


savannah said...

wow! i'm not even sure what to say, sugar! ;~) i do wish you well! xoxoxoxo

angryparsnip said...

I have been thinking about you and wondering how your class and teaching were going....
you know that line from a movie where he yells "truth you can't handle the truth" well my goodness I am exhausted by what you have been doing.
I have a postcard all ready to send out (hope I have your new address right) as a "hello I know your there under all that paperwork" and I was right ! You are there under all that paperwork !

cheers, parsnip

india banks said...

This photograph has all the warmth & mystery of my favorite kind of English teacher. One who knows you could never ever get paid enough for what you do - so sometimes you have to let go & be you for a night or two. If worse comes to worse and you don't get hired back by the university, just put together some money to fly over here and you can crash with me at the barnloft. Otherwise - bring Dave - because he could get good work here playing the Blues. In any case I've been dying to hear from you xx

Pat said...

I really do sympathise. Don't be too hard on yourself. I can't imagine Dave would ever dream of thinking you parasitic.
Those sort of hangovers are not fun. It's normal to gradually find you don't bounce back from over indulging as you used to and that leads to more sedate drinking. At least that'a what happened to me.
Is it possible to shortcut with students - instead of puzzling over something they have written, have a chat and get them to enlarge.
I'm probably talking rubbish but it is late:)

The Unbearable Banishment said...

Life is a quagmire, is it not? You are an exceedingly fair and honest individual. But, Jesus, can you lay off the worst-case-scenarios? Don't release that sort of thing into the ionosphere.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Sometimes a girl needs a break though Eryl, so don't feel guilty. Marking is a bind, I had years of it and I must say that in retirement I don't miss it at all. Lovely to hear you sounding so happy though.

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Eryl said...

Savannah ~ me neither! XXX

Parsnip ~ yes, here I am; having to be an adult for the first time in my life. Or, able to be an adult for the first time in my life. Free and responsible, I'm still finding my feet, and it's hard but splendid.

India ~ I have to say, I really miss my old desk: its space, its blue painted top, but I wouldn't trade my Dave for my it. I hope you're doing good, and will come over and see you as soon as I have organised myself some time to luxuriate in your space.

Pat ~ you are so wise. I'm generally pretty sensible when it comes to alcohol; god knows what happened on Thursday.
Talking to the students about their essays would be a much better way to do this, and in an ideal world that's how we'd do it. But because of all the other jobs we have to do during office hours marking tends to get done when the students are tucked up in bed.

UB ~ do apologise! I find imagining the worst helps me deal with my perceived problems, but I realise I don't have to lay it on the rest of you.

Weaver ~ I was talking to Dave's musical partner the other day about teaching – he used to teach politics and economics to college students – and until I mentioned marking he said he felt quite envious of me. As soon as I said essays he said: "oh no, I hated marking, hated it!"

Anon ~ everyone has to make a buck, so I can't blame you for trying. However, I can't afford your ugg boots, sorry.

Sharon Longworth said...

Ouch.. As someone who always thinks I can do everything and more, until the point where I find out I can't, this struck a few chords...
But anyway, if you can make the rest of us want you around just by the words you write on this blog, I don't think there's any danger at all of Dave thinking you don't add something to his life.

The Pollinatrix said...

I know EXACTLY what you're talking about here with taking on too much that's not supposed to be full time but really is.

I too am a teacher, and I despise grading papers. But I will never complain about it again after reading this, since I only have to grade short, remedial-level essays that were written on simple topics for my own class. Sheesh. I feel you! I'm so sorry :(

Lulu LaBonne said...

It sounds as though despite all the work, it's stimulating and worth this gargantuan effort - bravo brave girl xx

Meri said...

You bring back memories of the annoying part of teaching at the college level -- and students expected to get papers back within 24 hours or they'd give you low marks as a professor. How do you mark dozens of papers in 24 hours? Can't be done.

nick said...

Goodness, that's quite a workload to keep on top of. The night off was probably a good antidote to your strenuous labours, even if it did end with a crashing hangover!

Anonymous said...

... parasite? Yeah right, you'll end up sleeping under the bridge, probably rat-catching for pleasure and profit ...
Seriously, three courses are a bit much, especially when you have to use other materials, someone else's. But don't overdo it, dear Eryl, you do not have to analyze the essays right into the last possible conclusion. Of course the preparation and f.e. correcting a clausur, all ad up the working time and it can not be that in the end when one ads it up one earned 1.50 per hour ... you will find your rhythm and the right amount of carefulness.

The World According To Me said...

I don't like the sound of that hangover.
I too am good, too good, at letting off steam, so much fun at the time.
But hey, everyone deserves some time out, especially you with that work load.
A little bit of pressure? It's amazing the things one can accomplish sometimes when feeling that p word.
I have every faith in you!

Anonymous said...

I feel every sympathy for you and even more so when you can make such an amusing worst case scenario of it at the end. It's no fun marking essays. I got out of academe because I just felt a fraud all the time.

I know the hangovers are bad (although I must admit I'm blessed with never having them) but you need nights like the folk club. All the best.

Unknown said...

Eryl, you have this way about you in your writing that even when I know that what you say is serious, you have a tongue in cheek way of putting it down in writing that has me grinning, well except about the hangover!!

Just know that everything is perfect!! And if you don't teach next year, you will finish your book, or find a new way to utilize your talents.

YOU are a survivor my dear!!


Hi to Dave!