It was one of the scariest days of my life.
It was my first day of teaching English. I was 22 years old, and I had a classroom full of 18-year-old college freshmen looking at me. I had to do something.
I followed the script I had carefully worked out before class. I could barely speak, but I managed to call out the names on my class roster. I made a pen mark beside each name.
But I was so nervous that I had to slide my arm along the desktop as I made the pen marks down the list. If I had lifted my arm, everyone would have seen how badly I was shaking.
As scary as that day was, the scarier times were soon to come, when I had to start grading papers.
I was in the first year of my master’s program in English at Bowling Green State University. I was teaching composition classes, where I reviewed the basics like sentence structure and paragraphing.
It stands to reason that if you’re teaching writing, the students have to practice it. And if they practice it, the teacher has to read it. And evaluate it.
That triggered my obsessive-compulsive disorder, especially my checking.
I was obsessed with fears of not reading each essay completely and fairly. I was afraid that I would miss something important or judge the paper unfairly.
So I compulsively read and reread each essay. I painstakingly wrote long comments explaining my critiques. I reread my comments and rewrote them when necessary, using liquid eraser fluid to cover the changes.
If I completed grading one 500-word essay in 30 minutes, I was making good progress. It took me hours to review and grade 20 to 25 papers.
This fear and this ritual continued as I taught English for four years while in school, and then for about two and a half years after I left school.
Even though during that time I started treatment for OCD in the form of medication, which tremendously helped my obsessions and compulsions, it could never wipe out the reading and checking OCD related to grading papers.
How this expression of OCD would have benefited from Exposure and Response Therapy.
I can just imagine how I could have “exposed” myself to a student essay, to read once, then again as I made comments. Then I would have worked to prevent my compulsion to do the whole thing over and over again. I would have worked at living with the anxiety of not checking each essay “just one more time.”
I enjoyed much about teaching: the interaction with the students, the joy of seeing them learn and practice new concepts and reach their goals. But memories of the joys of teaching are overshadowed by the memories of the fear I had of grading papers.
Have you ever had a job or volunteer task that caused you a lot of anxiety? What did you do about it?