Teaching Reflections 10/4

Grading essays is the most tiring part of any English teacher’s job. I don’t know that any other course’s grading load requires the time that an English class does (if the English teacher is doing the job correctly). This is not to slight other courses or to suggest they don’t work hard, or to say that their grading doesn’t take time, but I think any honest comparison will tell you that grading 75 three-page essays is more of a burden than taking on 75 of any other kind of assessment. I’ve never met a teacher from another department who has expressed any jealousy about the type of grading I do.

But that’s what I signed up for.

I just finished reading/grading my classes’ college application essays. I’ve got 108 seniors in my 4 classes, so it took me a while to even get motivated to start looking at them, even though they usually are one of my favorite assignments to read. And they were by and large enjoyable again this year. As I told them when I let them know I was finished grading, I appreciated the honesty and trust they showed in sharing what they did with me. I’m at times floored by what my students have experienced.

Their first college papers were due last night, so I’ve now got another 108 essays waiting for me in turnitin.com, which the district wants me to get back to them in two weeks. Doable, I suppose, but at about 15 minutes per paper that’s a little more than a full day of grading, non-stop (27 hours? Math, meh). So there go a lot of evenings and my weekends. Not counting any other work I assign to keep them honest with their reading/research paper progress.

It piles up.

Admittedly, I find I enjoy the process of giving feedback on essays. I’ve heard from too many past students that “You taught me how to write” to resign myself to the belief that no one actually looks at anything but the grade. What helped me out a couple years ago was my realization that there’s no need for me to be a copy editor, hitting every little grammatical miscue leaving their papers bleeding. Students get overwhelmed, maybe start to feel hopeless about their writing. I don’t want that, so I hit the bigger issues on their papers after marking mechanical problems on the first page. And then I encourage students to come talk to me about their papers, which reminds me that I’m going to offer points back on their essays for those who do. But I need to figure out a system that doesn’t just encourage grade-grubbing.

Today my seniors are beginning the research process on their topics, ideally recognizing what they don’t know and locating sources that will fill in some blanks.

The idea of what my students don’t know is an important one. I’ve recognized that I at times assume a bit too much about my students’ knowledge of the research/writing process. Today I had a kid tell me he wasn’t finding a lot on the databases about police reform. I logged in and did a quick search and got a list back of about 70 articles. I showed him what I had done to get those results (“police reform in the united states”) and he told me he had been separating all the search terms individually in the search boxes: “police” “reform”. Not coming back with anything too useful.

A lot is said about kids and tech, but I think too many overestimate their knowledge base. They know their phones. Outside of that, real lessons are needed when asking them to use actual tools.

That’s it for now.


2 Responses to “Teaching Reflections 10/4”

  1. I can honestly say that even though grading sounds like the most boring thing to do, it can also be the most affecting thing to a student when you give good, constructive feedback. I used to be so anxious to see your comments on my papers just to see how I could be a better writer, not because I wanted to know the grade I had gotten.

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