Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Today's headache

In terms of sheer reading, I'm more than 2/3rds finished. My freshman class is in, done yesterday. My lit class was in already Monday. I have just one more--another writing class--but I've got some options, and I'm likely to opt for whatever ranks as ridiculously easy because I'm sick to death of grading right now, as I've been for years.

Don't get me wrong. I actually like reading papers--not all of them, I'll grant you, but most of them. When I look forward to retirement, I do so because of the pressure of standing up in front of students and trying to make the goods your delivering palatable. It's the presentation I'm tired of, the preparation, not the foodstuffs themselves--not the lit, not the writing. I may just sign up for some on-line classes when I retire, just because reading papers isn't a horror.

Grading is.

I've hated it for years, in part, I think, because in my line of work it's so undeniably arbitrary. Maybe if I taught math or something in the sciences, it wouldn't be--after all, how many interpretations can you put on the Doppler Effect? But yesterday I read thirty-some differing versions of what a couple of poems and a story mean, and each time it's my dirty job to pull a grade out of my hat, a grade that somehow estimates accomplishment. Maybe I don't trust myself.

Marilynne Robinson told me that, at the Iowa Writers Workshop, there are no grades--things are just pass/fail. Can you imagine? That sounds like teaching somewhere out in Nirvana. I could do that for the rest of my life. I can't imagine how great teaching would be if I didn't have to grade.

But I'm not crazy. I also understand that in a school where only a few dozen of a couple thousand applicants ever get in, who really gives a crap about grades? All you've got is whiz kids. On the other hand, here, with open enrollment, I know dang well that if I don't give grades, what I get in trade--their papers, their tests--will, fall off the end of the table in quality. Grades are the grim reaper.

Sloth. That's likely my problem. Teaching is hard work. Grading is the pits. I'd rather clean up the lawn or the garage, rather take a hike along the river, rather do most anything, really. Here's how Kim Brooks says it in yesterday's Salon: "[I'm at the point where] I'd rather be spending time with my family, or watching cable television, or doing absolutely anything but teaching composition, the point at which I would rather remove my own molars with a pair of garden shears than grade another paper."

Me too.

But grading came with the territory, or so says a man who homesteaded in education 40years ago--me. Still, it ain't any fun.

Here's Ms. Barnes: "True, but then, teaching (and for that matter, learning) isn't always fun. Changing my kid's dirty diapers isn't fun. Dragging my fat a__ onto a treadmill isn't fun. Helping my grandmother "fix" her computer isn't fun. Sometimes we do things not because they're fun but because they're important."

She's right. Tally ho.

One more class. One more day.

And then one more year.


Laura E said...


abby said...


Anonymous said...

You were a good marker, Jim. You were fair and clear in your critiques. You showed a lot of compassion for the student, and I always got the sense that you read our papers carefully and thoroughly. I still have a (faded)1-page evaluation you did of a short story I wrote more than twenty years ago. Your comments were bang on. By the way, I teach English as well, and marking ain't good for the brain.

Janet said...

Anonymous is right. I still have a comment you wrote when I had written a frustrated note on an assignment. (More than a comment, really - closer to a page and a half...). You actually took time out of your grading to let me know what you were thinking about me as a person - and it wasn't easy stuff - for me or for you, I'd guess. I don't know, if after all these years of teaching, you still remember, but many of your blogs about teaching are about 'reaching' your students. You reached me - and 35 years later, I think I'm better for it. Thank you.