Friday, December 15, 2006

Grading = Hell

This week, while people are generally miserable about having to run around and finish Christmas shopping, I am longing for the sweet release of being shoved around by smelly strangers in the Mall. Instead, I am slogging through final grading for the semester, an experience that I find more accutely painful than anything else I do all year- including the dental work I had done a few weeks ago! By the end of grading week, I look like the hollow-eyed and shell-shocked soldiers in old WWI paintings. You know how they say that 'prison changes a man'? For me, grading is a bit like that.

Do I exaggerate? Maybe a little. But, grading is a bit like the slow torture of watching a loved one being beaten to death. You call that exaggerating? Such words wound me! People who accuse me of exaggerating my pain might as well be shoving hot needles into my eyes! Anway...

Grading is horrible for me because I'm often grading essays, and one rule about the undergrad essay is that it's 10% facts and 90% talking out of one's own ass. For some reason that I can't possibly comprehend, when undergrads don't know very much about a topic, they make the one thing they do know out to be hugely significant. Instead of playing it cool, they write things like: "The invention of the Yale lock by Linus Yale Jr. in 1860 was the most important thing that ever happened in world history. It totally changed the way people thought of the world." And they go on like that for the next two pages.

In general, my problem is twofold- on one hand, my standards are extremely high. Truth be told, I only had two final exams this time that I think should have been above a C, and a great number that I think should have failed. Even the ones that had a good number of pertinent facts in them demonstrated so little understanding of those facts that they might as well have been reciting the flag pledge in Swahili. The parrot says what he knows; but he does not know what he says.

In contrast to my high standards is my deep, dark secret- I really like these students as people. When I read an essay by the kid who has been struggling all semester long to understand history, it's incredibly hard for me to be as hard on him as the whiz kid who got straight As. Conversely, with the straight A kid, it's hard for me to accept that he didn't get an A on the final. In general, I want all of the students to do well. I'm rooting for them.

This makes it accutely painful when I read stupid crap from them. It's painful because my standards are so high, and I'm constantly questioning myself on that, and also because I strongly believe that they can do better. But, they usually don't. Usually I get about ten really strong essays and 40 essays in which people are talking out of their ass. By the time I've graded the first fifteen or so, I want to lock them in a safe, drop it to the bottom of the ocean, get drunk, and be alone for a while! (God, I'm such a drama queen!)

Anyway, I inevitably end up giving them the benefit of the doubt. I try not to inflate the grades, and generally I don't- although often the professor will do it for me!- but, I also try not to forget that they're 18, and don't care about this stuff, and are stressed out, and low on time. (And in my darkest hours, I admit to myself that there are more of them than I like to admit that should not be in a university.)


Hiromi said...

I feel your pain. When I had to grade papers, I always made sure that I gave out a detailed writing guide to minimize problems. Ha. I also have really high standards, and not because I hated the students. "A for effort" devalues the whole educational process. But it's really hard to justify tough standards when the norm is to inflate grades.

Jen P. said...

Oh! I can't go home for x-mas until I grade 85 essays, and I haven't started yet. Knowing this is giving me a constant headache. Grading sucks. It's brain work with almost no rewards. Bah!

Rufus said...

Hiromi- I think that's it. It's astounding what some students believe is involved with 'writing an essay'- cutting and pasting 80% from Wikipedia just doesn't cut it for me. But, apparently, other instructors are fine with that, so long as it's cited.

Jen- I've been tempted many times to mark a set of dice with letter grades and do it that way! Hope you make it home for the holidays!