1,100 essays in 7 days?

by English and Yearbook Teacher Lisa Snow '99, NBCT

When I tell people that I spent a full week in Salt Lake City grading 1,100 essays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, they look at me as if I have lost my mind.  

It does seem strange to volunteer to grade more essays after a long school year as an English teacher. At times, I wonder what I was thinking, but I can say confidently that it was one of the best professional development experiences I have ever attended. Yes, there were times that I felt tired, frustrated, and overwhelmed by the fact that I was on day two and there were five more stretching out in front of me; however, like teaching itself, the difficulties and pressures were far outweighed by the community of teachers with which I found myself surrounded; the affirmation of my instincts and teaching practice that I received; and the window into the AP exam that I experienced.

Now, before readers assume that this post will contain secrets and insights into the AP Reading process, I have to say: the first rule of the AP Reading Room Club, is that you don’t talk about the AP Reading Room Club.

Now, before readers assume that this post will contain secrets and insights into the AP Reading process, I have to say: the first rule of the AP Reading Room Club is that you don’t talk about the AP Reading Room Club. That said, the people I met and the insights I gained about myself, literature, and my teaching practice, those are fair game.

Teaching AP Literature can be a daunting task: there is pressure to prepare students for a high-stakes test; there is consistently a mound of essays to assess; there are always too many books and great pieces of literature and not enough time. Plus, the “AP Readers” seem shrouded in mystery and authority to the average teacher of an AP course. No wonder students are worried and anxious about their scores.

However, what I learned from my week in Utah was that the people I ate with, read poetry with, and became friends with are intelligent, compassionate, thoughtful educators. They care deeply about each essay they read; they root for students to succeed; they passionately want their personal students to succeed, and they want to become better practitioners of their craft. We shared similar stresses, hopes, fears, strategies, and passions. We were able to share what techniques work in our classrooms and learn what works for others. We came together to analyze literature, and I found that, rather than some mysterious group of authority figures, these were men and women passionate about their work, just like me. They were teachers and lovers of literature.

So often, the unknown makes us unsure of ourselves. Will we fit in? Are we good enough? Do we understand what will be expected of us? Are we smart enough? Will others judge us compassionately? Punitively? Fairly? These questions often populated my anxieties, and those of my students, before I took the trip to Utah this June. I was confident in my teaching, my students’ abilities, and the learning they would do over each school year, but the AP Readers were an unknown: maybe they wouldn’t see what I saw in my students? Maybe all the preparation and work wouldn’t be enough.

Then I graded 1,100 essays. Then I spoke to men and women who all shared the same fears and the same vocation as I: to teach.

Ultimately, what I learned was to trust my vocation and my work; to know that my students will be assessed fairly and with compassion; to find ways for my students to see that these shadowy figures who volunteer to read essays full-time for over a week weren’t so shadowy after all. They are just like the woman standing in front of their classroom every day: a teacher who wants more than anything for them to learn, grow and feel rewarded by the joy of personal growth.

I am an AP Reader.

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