Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Problem of Grading

This week, for me, is finals week...and as always, this time of the academic year brings with it the dreadful task of poring through student journals, final papers, and final exams. My best friend was once asked, by a student, how he managed to make it through 40 ten-page papers in a week, especially when he was in the habit of giving careful feedback to each paper. His answer? "I drink."

Apparently, one student didn't chuckle with the rest of the class. Instead, he complained on the student teaching evaluation that his professor admitted to being inebriated while grading. The department head, upon reading this, felt compelled to invite my friend into his office to explain. "Oh," said my friend. "The student misunderstood. I didn't say I get drunk. I said I drink."

"Ah," replied the chair. "Very good. On your way, then."

Teachers have a variety of strategies for coping with grading. One friend bakes herself a tray of brownies, and rewards herself with a brownie every time she finishes some milestone number of papers. And then there is the strategy of putting the pile of exams on one side of you, and a bottle of scotch on the other. When you finish one or the other, you're done for the night.

When I'm in the middle of a stack of term papers, and I realize that even though I feel as if my brain is about to leak out my ears I still have twenty papers left to grade, I feel as if an oppressive--nay, almost demonic--power has taken over my existence, insinuating tendrils of darkness into my mind, replacing all hopeful thoughts, all joy, all images of beauty, with one more awkwardly convoluted sentence, one more fallacious argument, one more redundancy, one more "Since the beginning of time, human beings all over the planet have wrestled with questions of right and wrong, struggling with age-old questions that nobody knows the answer to. One such question is abortion."

And I think to myself, as I reach for the bottle of scotch: "Were there an all-knowing, all-powerful, and wholly-good God, then that God would know about grading. That God would be able to eliminate grading. That God would want to eliminate grading. And yet there is grading. And so, it seems, there cannot be a God." And despair seizes hold and will not release its infernal grip.

Until I realize, somehow, once more, I've finished. I've graded them all. And the clouds lift. I have passed through the dark night of the soul, and found that there is, on the far side, the golden light of dawn.

1 comment:

  1. Just like doing performance evaluations at work!