#14 – ‘April’-ing

Sometimes – especially for ELA teachers – the endless grading just becomes too much. Some are major essays and cannot be ignored, of course. Some are quick assignments that give you a good read on where students are – or aren’t – in a particular area and shouldn’t be ignored. Sometimes the assignment must be collected for the sole purpose of letting your students know they must do the work because it will be collected – and sometimes you decide to collect it simply to penalize those who aren’t doing the work. But who ends up really being penalized? Yep – that would be the schmuck who collected it.

And thus it begins to pile up. At this time of the year, only two-and-a-half weeks in, this hasn’t happened quite yet, but it waits in the wings, a silent presence.

When it happens, it is all at once too much. The mind blanks out; the body shudders. NO MORE! we scream. I just finished 68 of this set . . . And now there’s THIS set of grammar exercises, and that OTHER set of reader’s responses, and all those writer’s notebook entries.

As a fairly new teacher with my first regular ELA classes, I struggled mightily with the grading. I simply could not keep up. So I went to seek counsel from a new friend at school, a veteran 8th grade teacher named April Blakeslee.

I remember the moment so clearly, as she stood up from her desk and began to slowly make her way across the room, finally reaching her regulation steel-grey file cabinet.

She opened the bottom file drawer, smiling a little as she did so. “You can’t possible grade every one,” she said, shaking her head emphatically.

There, in a proverbial no-man’s land, were several batches of stuff. They were stacked neatly, vertically to horizontally, in case their new owner – the teacher – would decide to pluck a set to grade.

But that wasn’t likely to happen.

April smiled indulgently at me just then. “They don’t need everything to be graded,” she said softly. “It’s good enough for them to just do the work sometimes.”

She closed the cabinet with a flourish. “Anyhow,” she said, “you’ll just go mad. Choose what they need your comments on. And move on.”

I shared these words of wisdom and April’s method with other teachers over the years – some of whom had already figured this out. And as I followed this method (but not enough, I’m sorry to say), April’s name became a verb. “I’m Aprilling that,” I might say. “That one’s being Aprilled,” someone else might explain. And that helped bring us a little light in the dark abyss of a marking period.

Not very long after she shared her method for sanity with me, April went out on disability and eventually retired. She had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, and eventually Parkinson’s Plus. She lived for another 17-plus years, as fierce and feisty as she was when I first met her, and she never tired of hearing how her name was still a verb, even for those new teachers who had never met her.

April died in her sleep this past July, and today would have been her 75th birthday. Please honor this wonderful teacher of French and English for over 35 years by Apriling a set of grades over the next few months. You’ll be glad you did.

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