Essays…so many essays

The reason that I’m in Louisville is because I’m scoring high school advanced placement English exams. This is the eighth summer in a row that I’ve done this. Five days into the process, I’m not sure which is more surreal… the fact that I started doing this in grad school and eight years have gone by or the fact that for eight years in a row now, I’ve willingly subjected myself to reading high school essays for seven days straight. The money is helpful. It’s covered many of the things that have blown up in my house, and this year, I’m looking forward to going home and writing out a big fat check towards my student loans.

For those of you curious about what this process involves, I’ll give you some of the non-confidential details. Over 444,000 students took an AP English language essay; if you take that number and multiply it by the 3 essays in the exam, that’s quite a few essays to grade. quite.a.few. So, high school and college English teachers fly in from all over the country. Then, we find out when we get here which question we’ll read, and we read those answers all week. I’ve ready so many essays about high school students’ opinion on how to fix the financial issues of the US postal service. Oddly enough, 90% of them seem to be saying just about the exact same thing…with varying levels of success at saying it.I might not even go near my mailbox for several weeks upon my return.

The typical day looks like this. I wake up at 6:30 (yes, 6:30 in the summer) to get ready. I go eat a cafeteria breakfast of powdered eggs and whatever bread product exists. That’s the best meal of the day. And, I decide which kind of coffee strategy is going to be utilized for the day. I either go with Starbucks to make sure I’m good and hyped up, or I go with the regular coffee that it made available to us at every meal and every break because we NEED caffeine. quite.a.bit.

Then, I go upstairs at 8:00 and start reading. And, I read, read, read. We’re arranged in tables of 9 people with one senior leader to answer questions. Then, we take a break. Go to the bathroom, grab more coffee if needed, and get back to work. I read, read, read. And, slowly the candy wrappers start to pile up in front of me because it’s tradition for the table leaders to supply the tables with a steady supply of candy. My table leader this year provided cream filled caramels and peppermints, so she’s amazing. And, the table leader that provided us with chocolate covered espresso beans will forever be a legend to me.

I used to eat at break most years, but this year, I skip eating at several of the breaks. However, this is not due to concern about my waistline (though I really need to start working out when I get home). Instead, this is because mass chaos ensues when you release over 700 people into the hallway of a convention center and only give them 15 minutes to get food and get back to work. A few days ago, there were some baked Lays potato chips, one of the best snack foods ever. So, I was willing to brave the crowd. The tension of the situation is so intense. I don’t want to divulge in a public place what thought went through my mind as two women stood between me and my baked Lays debating about the carb content of the potato chips. Today was popcorn day at break, and I saw the poor convention center employees vacuuming afterwards. It looked like the county fair. Food was strewn everywhere. Never trust any crowds with popcorn.

Then, we get an hour for lunch. Sometimes many of us try to flock outside to soak in some sunshine because the convention center can be pretty chilly. During the reading, people overcome this by wrapping themselves in the extra blankets from the hotel, or one guy even wears his hotel bathrobe. I guess he didn’t bring a sweatshirt.

The afternoon is much the same as the morning. A break. A scramble for food. A bathroom break if I just need to get up because the words from the essays won’t even go into my brain anymore. And, then at 5, we get to go. Except for today when they announce that we’ll stay an extra 15 minutes.

Two more days. I’m about to turn on  the episode of Design Star that I missed yesterday while I eat my big piece of Cheesecake Factory cake that I was too full to eat last night after my gourmet Miso Salmon. That should get me ready for day six of reading. Maybe when I get home I’ll write a letter to the postmaster general to tell him how to fix the post office.