Monday, March 05, 2007

be minus

teaching is a very very great job. very very great. however...
the problems with grading are myriad and insurmountable.
here is a brief list:

1) i suck at it. it takes me forever. then i feel guilty about how it takes me forever and how i suck at it and how if only i were better/smarter/cleverer/more focused/more efficient/of greater will, well surely it would take me only a third the time.

2) if ever it doesn't take that much time, i feel guilty about how it doesn't take that much time, and if i really cared, i'd spend more time at it.

3) this never happens.

4) if i don't feel guilty about its taking too much time and i don't feel guilty about its taking too little time, i feel guilty about the evidence it offers. clearly, i am not a very good teacher. if i were, my students would write better papers. at the least, they would do the things we spend hours and hours in class and in my office chatting about the relative wisdom of their doing. such as employing commas. or support for their arguments. grading is like those horrible exaggerated claims about sororities where they make you take off all your clothes and then they circle the places you need to lose weight. it is like being naked and someone circling the parts of me that are no good -- the part that taught about introductions and conclusions, the part that talked about integrating quotations, the part that offhandedly mentioned proofreading when clearly that part needed at least half a class session.

5) it does no good. it doesn't help people learn. it just upsets them.

6) seriously, the lowest possible grade one can reasonably give to a paper that isn't a total disaster is a B-. and i give lower grades than that. and then they freak out and scream and cry and get mad and sad and upset. and i do not like conflict. a C+ is not an ever so slightly above average paper. it is a pretty poor paper. then i feel guilty about grade inflation. then i spend an hour making margin notes and filling out a rubric and making lengthy end comments with praise as well as gentle suggestions. then i invite them to come chat with me about their grades in my office. then i feel guilty about how much time it takes. see #1.

7) all that said, there is really no way to communicate about writing in writing. ironic. at our favorite restaurant where, the other night, we were ordering cheese based on descriptions such as "earthy," "smooth," "balanced," and "barnyard" (by which they mean "smelly"), we were remarking to the waiter about how odd those descriptors are, and he said cheese is even harder to describe than wine. know what's harder yet to describe? why B papers aren't A papers. do students think, "hey, i got a B. B means good."? no. they think, "this paper is good, so why the hell isn't it an A?" one therefore needs must spend a lot of time answering this very question rather than going out to dinner for smelly cheese.

8) it is boring.

9) it is cold. especially when your husband turns off the heat so he can record music without also recording the blower.

10) oh the many many many other things i could be doing with my time which would be more productive or more fun or more entertaining.

11) blogging, however, is not one. i am so totally procrastinating right now. odds are, well, one that you can guess what i should be doing instead.

-- mtg (obviously)


Transient Gadfly said...

I can't believe your husband would turn off the heat just because it makes noise while he is recording. He is such a whore.

alicia said...

the greatest geniuses are those who think they are not geniuses.. who think they can do better. those are probably also the best teachers. but what torture!

Mita said...

I agree with Alicia. And if it didn't do ANY good, we wouldn't do it. Your students love you. Love you love you love you. I have proof.

Although scan trons. Let's look into scan trons. (Is scan tron one word or two? and what does that have to do with Tron anyway?) Aha--pods are totally like Tron ...

Lilita said...

omigosh, how can it be that we all feel exactly the same way? But here are my survival thoughts:

1: clearly, we are not as good at teaching as we would like to be but our students are (often) not as good as students as they could be (so there!).

2: really, we are not teaching writing, because that is, to review, virtually impossible. we are teaching thinking. And they are thinking...or else they'd be dead.

3: grading and grading in the cold always makes these matter much much worse.

4: and you are, like, the most totally awesome and more insanely hyper-involved and uber-dedicated teacher ever (I have proof as well) and therefore see 1 above.

5: denial of all of this is really effective. In other words, fugeddaboutit, it's now spring break! Yay!

sageblue said...

BTW, my students hate me more because I give grades like B/B-. It's like I have some platonic vision of what a B paper is in a particular context, and then a student comes along and writes a paper that is just not quite a B paper, but certainly not a B- paper. What is my problem?

The Tetrast said...

I can't remember all these reactions to grades happening when I was grade school and high school.

I got plenty of B's, quite a few Cs. I once got Bs or better on my report card, except for a D- in Motivation. I didn't complain, I boasted of it. I was a pain in the neck.

Anyway, maybe it has to do with computerization and the permanence and availability of one's record. It just wasn't like that at the NYC schools where I went in the 1960s and early 1970s. Occasionally a kid asked for a higher grade, but I never saw or heard of the kind of continual unhappiness that you discuss here.

I've always thought that I would not like having to grade papers, though. I wondered even then how teachers did that on papers where the student has to offer thoughts and make arguments. I figured that, as long as no individual one of those grades mattered too much, I shouldn't worry about it. Ah, the good old days, etc.