Ancrene Wiseass

A would-be medievalist holds forth on academia, teaching, gender politics, blogging, pop culture, critters, and whatever else comes her way.

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Yes, this really is yet another blog by a disillusioned grad student. I sympathize, but that's just the way it has to be. For hints as to what my bizarre alias means, click here and here and, if needed, here and here. To get a sense of what I'm up to, feel free to check out the sections called "Toward a Wiseass Creed" and "Showings: Some Introductory Wiseassery" in my main blog's left-hand sidebar. Please be aware that spamming, harassing, or otherwise obnoxious comments will be deleted and traced.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Midterm Essay

I have finally finished grading the damn midterms, having realized for the gazillionth time that I make the entire process far more heinous than it needs to be just because I hate grading so disproportionately. I mean, hell, it's a lot of hard work. But I really don't think it has to make me feel like a cartoon coyote who just got an anvil dropped on his head every day for a week.

Until very recently, I kept thinking that the problem was a lack of efficiency--my general tendency to be excruciatingly thorough about things and to try to tackle even gigantic projects all in one stretch. But ultimately, I think this is a problem rooted more in psychology than in methodology.

'Cause when I get down to it, boy, I can fly through a stack of essays. ("Did the student actually make a cogent argument from the beginning and tie it up reasonably in the end? Is it well supported? Is it well organized? Does it contain any major errors or ignore any major pieces of evidence? Does it show signs that it got proofread at least once? Okay, on to the next one.") And when I go back to double-check them, I may tweak two or three a third of a grade up or down, but that's about it. So I know I can be quick and accurate.

Maybe the problem is that, despite having a solid track record, I still just don't entirely trust myself to evaluate students' work. Who the hell am I, after all?

Well, I guess the answer, as bizarre and sometimes unwelcome as it seems to me, is that I'm an authority figure, at least to the small segment of Big City U's undergrads who land in my classrooms. I've acted like it enough during my on-duty time to believe it while I'm in the classroom or holding office hours. But stacks of metaphorically (and sometimes--though rarely--literally) bloodied, sweat-sprinkled, tear-bedewed papers hulking on my bedroom dresser still make me quail a little.

And maybe that's not such a bad thing. The grades these stacks of paper earn don't--as I constantly remind my students--mean that I do or don't like the people who wrote them, that those people will or won't make $5oK a year, that those people are clever or dimwitted. What the grades do indicate is how much knowledge and innovation each student manage to fit into a well-organized, reasonably polished format within a certain space of time while dodging whatever life's throwing at them.

But, taken as an aggregate, the grades students earn really can make a difference: a scholarship denied or awarded, a job offered or withdrawn, a major pursued or abandoned, an ego boosted or shattered.

Given, the ball is mostly in the students' court. Grades, when assessed fairly, are earned rather than given, and only the student can determine how much diligence, enthusiasm, time, and style goes into preparing and performing these exercises. But still, the exercises do mean something, and it's my responsibility to make sure they get evaluated with an appropriate mixture of justice and mercy.

I guess I still have some work to do before I believe, at least a little more, that I really am an authority in my own little matchbox corner and that I've earned the right to be one.

I'm looking forward to coming more into my own as a teacher, but I also hope that an ungraded pile of papers never ceases to make me feel a little bit awestricken.