Whether you teach second grade, eleventh grade, or college-level seminars, one of the constant threads is the dread of grading. I will always know where we are in the school year because on my Facebook page and favorite blogs, I start to see the same updates: I’m avoiding the pile of bluebooks lurking in my school bag or Jennifer is still grading, and grading, and grading. Every teacher or academic I know sighs and groans and moans at the mention of grading.
Why do we hate it so much? There is the tedium of sitting in one place, pen or laptop in hand, for hours while we try to concentrate, or the hard fact that no matter how much grading we do, there is always more grading coming along right behind it, which can get a bit Sisyphean. But I think the worst part is staring down a pile of assessments that may be full of disappointments. Before we have graded them, we can still maintain the illusion that the brilliant new assignment we designed actually did what we wanted it to do, or we can cling to the belief that the kid in the back of the room that we’ve been trying to reach may have actually woken up and applied the talent or potential we know is lurking within. These hopes and dreams are only revived when we actually do get a batch of papers that reveals that it worked, that they got it, that our goals and their abilities dovetailed in a wonderful harmony– and then the next batch comes in, and our hopes sink again, and it’s back to the drawing board.
[Practical Note: on my ever-expanding wishlist, I have a book called Rethinking Rubrics, and the author, Maja Wilson, wrote a lovely and funny reflection on dreading grading when that book was part of a book discussion on the EC Ning.]
You will also often hear teachers and professors alike complaining that the students get so hung up on grades, focus so much energy and emotion on them, that all they care about is the grade, not the knowledge they are supposed to have gained. Alternately, the students are callously indifferent to their grades, and we wish they would care more about them. They either invest their entire self-worth into their grades, or they don’t invest their grades with any personal value at all. Is this a result of institutional or cultural atmosphere, of parental priorities, of teacher reinforcement or neglect, or is it some terrible mix of all three, that will be impossible to dissect or dissuade? Why is it so challenging to find the middle ground between caring too much and not caring enough?
All I know is that if you ask teachers what their least favorite part of the job is, I’m betting that “grading” will be one of the top five answers. And I know that right now, if you took a random sampling of schools from Kansas to Florida to Oregon, and asked the teachers if they had grading to do, every head would nod in weary unison.