Marking 15 college student end of semester projects per day is advised by my boss. It allows a bit of time to consider what the student has learned and where to guide them next. In each day also dealing with emails, meetings, mentoring two junior lecturers (that are way smarter than me), and enquires, while planning for the next semester after the looming summer break. Living in the future is incredibly unhealthy I think.
The way things worked out was I had 84 projects to mark in 2 days. By the end of 2 days, at the marks extraction deadline I still had 27 to mark. I knew I was heading for tough times back in August. So, I adjusted my teaching to give all the feedback needed during the weeks leading up to the students’ semester end assignment deadlines. Then I hit the wall with pain and inability to think clearly. That disrupted my marking schedule. But having worked hard, which may have created the crash that I could sense coming, I was able to intensely mark at about 30 student projects per day in 16 work hour days this past week. Me at a computer at a desk just breaks for meals and ablutions.
The nighttime cravings have been intense. Like demonic possession. It’s so important not to have any junk food where you live. I have been expending so much mental and thinking energy. Coffee consumption has gone up to 3 cups per day from 2. I have young peoples’ careers, and sometimes their lives, in my hands. These seemingly fragile kids take their own lives in nearby southeast Asian countries if they get poor grades, such is the familial pressure on them. I sense that perfection and achievement culture ill leaking in to our universities now as well. There is no place for failure anymore, no room for mistake making, when mistakes are a better teacher than I will ever be. Student debt, over expectations, students on poor diets unable to learn how to learn. And if they try to get healthy they go vegan because it’s cheaper. I have to do this properly. The admin deadline was two days ago. There’s a strata of middle management waiting in pot planted offices on campus thinking of new slogans and squeezing ‘efficiencies’ that don’t exist from their education commodity. 11 assignments to go. It’s the weekend. The threatening emails still arrive from people in suits that only see students on an income spreadsheet. But I am the only person that can do this work. Actually face the students and craft them an education of worth. I am their, the manager’s, bottleneck. I am the ferryman between them and their pre-summer holidays bonuses and KPIs. I’ve bruised them by being late.
There is this one student, for example, he is a he/they transgender student in their early 20s. They have a gay boyfriend and live in an attic apartment in a poor part of the city, literally down by the docks. They work in a cafe and attend university full-time. Their mother is a single mom who never finished high school and insists that their trans son is their daughter. Their final assignment was to create a short film that demonstrated the technical skills they had learned in creating visual effects and animation ( like you see on Netflix or at the movies). They also create a video essay explaining their process and learning discoveries. These students are second years. Most students submit a 2 minute film and a 5 minute video essay. Last night I went to a performance. It was at a different university. This example student’s younger sister was graduating as a music composer for animation, games and film ( think lock-down think how important these young creatives are). There was a live orchestra, conducted by a young lady, the sister who also had an electric guitar strapped across her back, accompanying a 26 minute animated film on a cinema size screen. This student, my student, was the producer for the animation. I sat there immersed in this achievement thinking this is what teaching is all about. That is one young person out of 60 or more I teach each semester as I watch them flow by into adulthood.
After I had an incredible hankering for Thai food. At lunch I had 5 fried eggs in ghee with re-fried meat from two baked beef ribs that were leftovers from dinner with mum the night before. That was 9 hours earlier. I drove home through the Friday night city, past uncountable restaurants and fast food joints. It was a film montage. I got home and cooked up a rump steak with some eggs and cheese. Then sat down and marked two more projects before midnight. My greasy fingers on the keyboard.
Staying on plan is keeping the joint pain down to a dull niggle and by eating some added fat in the form of ghee has been feeding my brain ketones. I can’t keep this pace up. But I can see the end to these required jobs and then I can get back to walking Billie the Labrador at the beach in the sunshine.