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  • Writer's pictureDonna Gerard


Updated: Oct 6, 2023

Do you recognize this scene? You have five sets of math quizzes to grade. You can’t see the top of your desk as it is littered with miscellaneous student work, four sets of papers you need to return, two lost water bottles, various stray pieces from the science lab, and three posters that fell off the wall. Virtually every student is missing assignments because they were absent, they lost them, or they handed them in late and they are sitting somewhere in your ungraded miscellaneous assignment pile. You still have to check Google Classroom because there’s more ungraded stuff there. You have e-mails to answer, and there’s an untouched pile of Stuff that was in your school mailbox. The kids’ coat closet is overflowing with forgotten winter coats and gloves even though it is spring. You have to check in the permission slips you just collected, and grades are due next week, as well as your lesson plans. There’s a staff meeting after school. As you contemplate how to dig yourself out of your predicament, Jeffrey is jumping around because he just discovered a cockroach in his desk. It is apparently feasting on the cupcake he left there last week. Yeah, the kids need to clean out their desks too. Oh, and you have to teach today’s lessons which will generate more mess, more assignments to grade, and more stress for the many students who just want to catch up as much as you do.

It is time to declare a Catch-Up Day. Cancel today’s lessons. Everyone, clean your desk. Spray them down, throw out the garbage, organize your papers. In fifteen minutes you’ve accomplished some housekeeping, three lost books were returned to their owners, and a dozen missing assignments have been either handed in or are now being completed. Meanwhile, you are also cleaning your desk, getting the tall kid to rehang the posters, and assigning the ultra-organized kids to straighten the bookshelves, games, and coat closet. They make a pile of winter clothes which you hold up one at a time for their owners to reclaim and stuff into their backpacks. Students who are up to date have the privilege of game time, drawing, reading, or maybe even helping the students who need a learning buddy. You are grading papers and calling up students who could use a quick conference. You use your lunch and prep to feverishly input grades and catch up on your email. At the end of the day, the kids have a homework free night, your room is clean, your inbox empty, your grades are updated, and everyone will be starting tomorrow with a clean slate.

You and your students leave with a sense of accomplishment and you might even feel lighter, now that you’ve lost the weight of all that stress from being behind. This is where I provide you with a list of things you can do that will keep this scene from repeating.

· Grade fewer assignments. Not everything students write needs to be read by you. Pick a few labs, or essays, or math assignments to focus on.

· Assign students jobs in the classroom. Put someone in charge of keeping the bookshelves neat on a daily basis. Have a couple of students inspect displays to make sure nothing has fallen down.

· Plan for grading time while students are working on an online assignment. Call students for individual conferences as needed.

· Make use of peer tutoring on an ongoing basis. This helps struggling kids keep up and reinforces learning for the stronger student.

· Establish a brief weekly Lost and Found time. Let students take their things out of the coat closet and you can inspect for leftover items. Ask students to clean their desks before the situation gets ugly, and let them turn in that “extra” science workbook that magically belongs to the kid who can’t find theirs.

With this said, as a fairly organized person who regularly uses these guidelines, classroom life is fast paced. Kids can be messy and disorganized, especially when they don’t have adequate time to do “housekeeping”. A teacher’s work can pile up faster than snow in a blizzard. When the storm hits, every one wins when you declare a Catch-Up Day.

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