On Grading

Last weekend, I had three sets of papers to grade. I’d picked them up and put them down for two days. So when I woke up Saturday morning, I knew I could procrastinate no longer. Maybe that’s why this image played over and over in my head.


That might also be why on the way to the office I stopped at two, yes two, fast food restaurants. White flour and sugar are paper-grading crack. Chocolate is also useful.

Do not judge me.

It was Valentine’s Day, so my first stop netted these. (Yes, those are blueberries and full of antioxidants.)

2015-02-14 09.34.11

I’m pretty sure the hearts didn’t make it past Paper Two.

I’ve tried to think about why I get twitchy when I grade–other than the obvious ingestion of sugar and caffeine. And here’s what I’ve come up with.

The amount of time involved boggles the mind.

I teach English, so I can’t do the standard workaround for not correcting grammar and crappy sentences (technical term) and grade on content alone. Across disciplines, some tireless colleagues also work to correct issues beyond content and I applaud them. I’m not sure that if I could, at least some of the time, I wouldn’t go with the this content looks very good shortcut.

Some people talk about the hours that teachers spend not working. Other people equate my twelve-hour teaching load with the number of hours I work. These people have never prepped a class, worked with students, or tried to grade a paper. At a wedding reception last fall, I sat next to a delightful woman from Chapel Hill. A few years back, she’d left a lucrative and busy career in the sciences to teach literature at the high school level. She taught in what people recognize as one of the best systems in our state, but she left teaching after several years because she could not justify the time that she took from her family life to grade. Weeknights were busy with planning for classes and working through daily issues that come up when you deal with large groups of people. Most of her grading was done on weekends. It never stopped, and it couldn’t be put off. She’s back at that lucrative science career.

It gets personal. 

I ask a student for 11949870361565969806fc17.svg.med

From a number of students, I get

   circle or square

Don’t take it personally a colleague tells me. But I do at some level, especially after hours of grading. When I’m assigning a paper, I do everything except a call and response cheer sequence. (I say word count; you say 750!) I provide sample papers and an assignment that is detailed.

If I get enough misshaped papers, I hear the voice of Charlie Brown’s teacher in my head and imagine that this is what my assignment directions look like to a college freshman.


It’s only a short synapse snap away from that thinking to falling down the rabbit hole and landing up against this thought.

The weight of our education system’s issues sits on my shoulders.  

At least for a moment during the grading of each set of papers, I’m so aware of the calls to dismantle our public education system and privatize so much and of the  money that has been and is being taken out of the system for the benefit of taxpayers. However, the cost to the taxpayers in terms of their children is incalculable. I say that not because I teach English and not math, but because I believe citizens are not served by even one student that graduates without being able to read well, write well, and choose well.

I don’t blame teachers. A few years ago, Dave Eggers and Ninive Clements Calegari wrote a great op-ed piece that explains why not far better than I can:

When we don’t get the results we want in our military endeavors, we don’t blame the soldiers. We don’t say, “It’s these lazy soldiers and their bloated benefits plans! That’s why we haven’t done better in Afghanistan!”

I also don’t blame students for the state of education (even while I hold them accountable for reading directions).


Often as I’m about to go into a hypoglycemic coma, a wonderful paper comes along, and I put down my Krispy Kreme doughnut, and all is


Now, I’m off to grade quizzes–no sugar required.

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