For many, it's the most stressful part of the job -- partly because it's so hard to be fair.
Despite what many outsiders may think of teachers and their work lives, it's a demanding occupation. My wife and I received a Christmas card from a former colleague of hers, an accomplished woman who previously had a successful career in economic analysis of energy issues and who recently had become a high-school teacher. She wrote that it is "the hardest job" she's ever had -- also the most satisfying.
I didn't have difficulty understanding either part of her assessment. But as I thought about her and her new job, I found myself thinking more about what's hard about it. For one thing, this person is still in her first year of teaching, which is notoriously demanding. I don't believe I ever worked harder or longer hours than I did in my first year of teaching high school -- and that includes my graduate school years and my first years of teaching at the college level.
After that first or second year, the workload becomes more manageable, but the hardest -- and, to me, most stressful and distressing -- part of the job remains: grading students' work. It's the part of the job that, in my opinion, induces the greatest uncertainty, discomfort, and angst.
An essay that earns a B+ at one moment might earn a B- the next day. It shouldn't be that way, but any honest teacher will admit it's true.
I know that some teachers actually enjoy grading. They say they find it interesting to see what their students have learned and how they're doing. I admire that attitude. And it's certainly true that there is the positive feeling that comes from the occasional observation of student improvement, from either increased effort or better understanding of the material. But apart from that, I was never able to get myself into the frame of mind where I could find grading bearable, much less enjoy it. Why not? Multiple factors and worries contributed to the pain: