Stress Managment

Teacher Shortage: Burnout from Grading Essays Doesn't Help

May 6, 2022

Stories about teacher burnout and a teacher shortage, especially since COVID, regularly pop up in the media. Why now? Teachers have long been overworked and underpaid. No one who aspires to teach K-12 students expects to get rich. They teach because they love kids. They teach because they love to help children learn. They teach because it's their calling. Yet, the frustration of trying to engage in good work that benefits students, colleagues, and communities without support is too much for some.

School closures and forced adjustment to virtual learning from the pandemic have accelerated the looming teacher shortage. Major transitions, unsupportive policies, and the lack of helpful tools have led teachers to leave the profession in droves. It's unlikely that teachers will see meaningful salary increases in the immediate future. Still, giving them the support they need to do their job can go a long way in removing frustration and preventing their exit.

Below, we look at what drives the teacher shortage, how grading essays drastically increases teacher workload, and the steps districts, schools, and communities can take to support those who teach our kids.

Teacher Dissatisfaction is at an All-time High

K-12 teachers have never worked a 40-hour work week. The average teacher puts in at least an extra hour or two to meet student needs each day. Even before considering coaching and extracurricular advising, the average teacher spends ample time answering emails and grading papers. A recent survey by EdWeek Research Center reports that a typical teacher works about 54 hours each week, and only 25 to 30 hours are spent directly teaching students. The same survey showed teacher dissatisfaction is at an all-time high, helping prompt a mass exodus from the profession. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that more than 270,000 teachers have left the profession each year since 2016 and expects this to continue through 2026. Although some departures are from teachers retiring, more than half are occupational transfers, and schools in high-poverty areas are suffering the most.

The narrative about teacher burnout often focuses on how teachers need to take a break and learn to relax. Districts take well-meaning but often empty or ineffective actions to "help" teachers or show appreciation. Lunch and donuts in the teacher's lounge don't help keep teachers in the classroom. Nor do Casual Fridays, chair massages, and birthday celebrations. They need real support.

Districts cannot fix every problem overnight, but they can start making decisions to move things in the right direction to retain their teachers. Let's look at one common struggle that impacts teacher workload: grading papers.

The Monotonous but Necessary Task of Grading

Regardless of grade level, every teacher spends a good portion of their time grading student assignments. Doing homework, taking quizzes, and writing essays help kids learn and provide feedback for improvement. Depending on the lesson plan and the class load, some teachers might have 30 to 100 worksheets, essays, and other assignments to grade each day. Quizzes, tests, homework, and classwork can be quick to grade. Some teachers use the old "pass your paper to the person behind you" trick and have the class grade their own work. This helps reduce take-home grading and gives students the feedback they need sooner than later.

However, grading essays is the most time-consuming, and it's not easily passed off to the students. Some teachers engage their students in a peer-review process to develop and grade essays, but this isn't always the best choice for K-12 students. Peer-reviewing essays don't consider the different levels of students, often resulting in inconsistent and sometimes inaccurate feedback.

Teachers who assign their students essays—for English, reading, history, science, or any other subject—know that it takes a massive amount of time to carefully grade essays and provide students with useful feedback to help improve their writing, comprehension, and information synthesizing skills. A simple five-paragraph essay can take up to 20 minutes for a seasoned educator to grade, depending on the level of feedback the student needs.

To put the time it takes to grade essays into perspective, consider this sample workload from high school English teacher and blogger, Lola Lolita. On a six-period day, she teaches five classes that include two sections of freshman and sophomore English and one section of senior English. Each day she collects the following assignments that need grading:

  • 60 quizzes x 50 seconds per quiz = 50 minutes of grading time
  • 60 essays x average of 12 minutes per essay = 12 hours of grading
  • 30 classwork assignments x 1 minute per assignment = 30 minutes of grading
  • 5 classes of grades to input x 1 minute per class = 5 minutes of grading

This totals over 13 hours of grading each day. Even if you cut this sample in half, teachers barely have enough time in their days to actively teach students and get their complete their grading.

Writing Software to Make Grading Essays Easier

Many schools across the nation have gone digital for many assignments. Some were forced to jump on the technology bandwagon, even with tight budgets, because of the pandemic. Even when submitted in electronic form, grading essays is not always efficient. One of the key ways schools can help reduce teacher burnout is by training them to use effective and efficient grading strategies. The ultimate goal is to grade essays as quickly as possible without sacrificing the kind and amount of feedback for students.

Outline is an interactive writing platform with proprietary essay development for students. It allows students to organize their thoughts better, create strong outlines, and write better essays. Teachers can engage through the platform's backend in the essay management area. Teachers can create assignments and control categories, topics, number of essays, and ideas. Outline brings students and teachers together in the essay process, making it easier to grade with customized rubrics and producing better essays, making grading essays quicker and less tiring.