Shift work

4 o’clock shift at the Ford Motor Company assembly plant in Detroit, Michigan (1910s). By Detroit Publishing Company [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I got a job, in the grand tradition of Detroit area shift workers. Every morning before 8am, workers pull into the parking lot in front of my office. Or walk. Or ride their bikes. Or arrive by bus. We wait patiently with our newspapers, crossword puzzles and lunchboxes in hand, until 8am. Then the doors to the facility open and we can shuffle in to our work sites.

Once inside our rooms, we sit down at metal folding chairs arranged at rows of plastic folding tables. Each seat has a terminal and monitor, where we can electronically “transfer in” for the shift.

For the next 8 hours (minus legally mandated lunch times and breaks), we work at our computer terminals, grading the free response portions of standardized tests. At 4pm, we turn in our secured work materials, our tally of packet counts and “clock out” to go home. A line of workers leaves the facility, like a cavalcade of ants. We exit the door in clumps, then scatter as we reach the crumbled asphalt of the parking lot and disappear into individual vehicles and private lives.

I can’t (to my great chagrin) actually talk about what I do at work, since the material is all proprietary. A bizarre and wonderful culture of inside jokes develops among the workers grading a particular prompt. I kept myself awake by writing down the hilarious things students write on tiny sticky notes and read them aloud to my coworkers at breaks. (However, I dutifully turned my stack of post-its with their collection of controlled information back into our team leader at the end of the project). It’s sometimes easy to forget that behind every handwritten (or typed) essay we analyze and rate, there is a real-life student.

My coworkers are an interesting bunch of retired teachers, retired autoworkers, underemployed and part-time workers from myriad industries. “I found it on Craigslist,” I told them. An eclectic group, temporarily electronically hiveminded to grade according to the rubric.

I kinda like it.


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