Extra-curricular Work: Or, planning, grading, & everything outside of teaching class itself

Before I started this job, one of the big questions on my mind was just how much of a workload there’d be outside of the classroom itself. After more than 3 years as a teaching assistant at the college level, I had a sense of what the workload might include in terms of lesson planning and grading, but let’s face it: as a TA, I had anywhere from 1 to 3 sections of the same class (given my school’s class sizes and TA needs).

First, here’s what grad school looked like in terms of out-of-class work:

Oh wait. Grad school was ALL out-of-class work. Whether it was my own preparation for classes, writing a dissertation, or teaching, most of my work occurred outside of formal class hours. When you think of it that way, there may not actually be much difference between the out-of-class workload for teaching private secondary school or for teaching college. In other words: classes are fleeting, but prep and grading is where it really is. Seriously, though, I taught either one discussion section for ONE course or at most 3 discussion sections for the same course. This meant I only had to plan one lesson a week and adapt it for the students as needed. They were all covering the same thing at the same time. On top of that, I had either my own papers and reading to do for classes I was taking OR I had that dissertation thing to research and write.

Now, take away the research and writing. Consider this:

I teach four classes and have 3 preps. If you want to put it in academic-y terms, it’s similar to a 3-3 load, except for the fact that it may be more accurately a 3.5 and 3.5 load (I’ll explain that in a moment). On any given day, I teach 3 or 4 classes. If I teach 4 classes, two are sections of the same subject – but they’re not always on the same schedule. The other day, both of my sophomore sections were covering China: Part I of the Cold War Asia years, but they had a drop day after that when we didn’t meet due to the school day structure, so now they’re one class behind my other sophomore section. In other words, although I may technically ONLY have 3 different courses to prep, sometimes I’m teaching two separate things on the same day for the 2 sections of the one course. Also, one of those sections could be a 40-minute class and the other could be a 60-minute class, depending on where we are in the weekly cycle.

In short: my sophomore class sections require a little more in terms of logistics, as I have to figure out who’s doing what when, and where I need to be for each day. It all evens out in the wash, but there’s a little more forethought that has to go into it. (This Monday, for example, one class will finish up China and the other will start India. On Tuesday, the first class will start India, so I’ll use my original India materials – slightly adapted – for that class. But this weekend I need to make sure I prep for both China AND India – although I DID already prep and teach that China class once, so it’s pretty much good to go.)

…which gets us to the real heart of the question: how much work DO I have outside of class?

And that has a complex and perhaps not helpful answer of: it varies. When the school year began, I was working ALL THE TIME. I’d come to school, work on prep things for the hour before the school day started, teach, use free periods to plan (if I was lucky), go home, work for another hour or two, watch TV, and go to bed. I spent all weekend working (or at least it felt like it). By October, I’d gotten a little more used to it and the routine has started to improve.

In an ideal week, I’ll get all of next week’s classes prepped during the school day. This means I use my 2-3 free periods to plan lessons ahead of time so that I don’t have to do it on the weekend. If it’s a light grading week, that means that my weekend will be relatively open. If it’s a heavier grading week, I might spend a couple of hours working on Friday night or devote an entire weekend day to work. These days, I tend to be able to get at least half the weekend to myself.

Things are a little crazier right now, though. My goal is to NOT work over our two-week winter break. I need a break, the students need a break, and I have an AHA presentation to prep (and movies to see!). However, I also have a lot of assignments due across the board right now.

A week ago yesterday, my junior English students turned in 3-page essays on Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. Ordinarily, I would have started grading on Friday and finished it up Saturday (no matter how long it might take). Except I was visiting family Saturday and doing other planning things on Sunday, so I spent time this week grading and it took me longer than usual around other things I had to get done. I finally finished the 16 papers I had  before I went to bed last night – which is actually about a 5-business-day turnaround and not bad at all.

This week, I was not able to do any of next week’s prep because of those papers. Well, I did get the next AP US History outline going and the structure in place for our next unit, but I haven’t actually planned the 3 classes on Reconstruction that I’ll be teaching.

Today, my sophomores are all supposed to turn in 2-paragraph responses for a stage of a project they’re doing. I plan to grade those this weekend. Today I also have 10 AP students taking essay exams, which I also plan to grade this weekend.

On Monday, my sophomores will turn in 3-page papers (all 27 of them). On Wednesday, my junior English students will turn in photo essays on The Great Gatsby. On Friday, my junior English students will do a vocab quiz and submit their vocab paragraphs. And come hell or high water, that will ALL be graded by end of day Friday so that I can have my winter break free.

Really, this month is more intense than usual. If we didn’t have break coming up, I’d spread out things a little more, but I really have no choice. We couldn’t do the sophomore essays until we got to a certain point of the unit, for example, and I couldn’t assign the Gatsby assessment until we were near the end of the book. (Also, I ditched a timed-in-class writing assessment in English because I realized that would overload me far too much).

Is there more out-of-school work now than I might have elsewhere? Probably not. I think it’s all just timed differently and perhaps comes more frequently than at the college level (or maybe just AS frequently). On the flip side, I don’t have any research or writing requirements, so I think that means my workload may be on par at many times with those who teach a 3-3 or a 4-4 at a college somewhere. Oh, and did I mention I only have 54 students? That might help, too.

Of course, none of this takes into account the idea that in a private school, you’re also part of the community – so attending athletic events, theatre performances, etc., is definitely on the must list. I’m getting there when it comes to those. They may mean more presence AT work, but really, those are the fun parts.

Hopefully this all makes sense (if you’ve even read this far). If you have any questions about anything, feel free to ask.

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2 thoughts on “Extra-curricular Work: Or, planning, grading, & everything outside of teaching class itself

  1. How much out of class contact do you have with students besides the special events? I’m thinking more of the equivalent of office hours. I know that some of my daughters’ high school teachers have quite a line-up of students on a nearly daily basis. The students come in to seek further help in a topic or explore some related interests outside of class time. Apparently, it’s on a daily basis for many teachers and also over their own lunch hour so that could be kind of wearing if it’s a frequent event!

    • Good question. I keep my availability schedule on the back whiteboard in my room, but it really comes and goes in regards to whether or not students make appointments. When my sophomores were finishing their research papers and I required them to do rough drafts and meet with me, I had a full schedule for a week and a half. Now, unless there’s a paper due, no one really uses it (although they like that it’s there).

      I think it varies by school culture. I’ve heard of independent schools where there’s a steady stream of student meetings, but our students are heavily involved in extracurriculars like sports, so it makes it hard to schedule out-of-class appointments. Using lunch time for meetings is rare; before/after school or free periods are more common. (Even then, not often.)

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