I have always had a problem with guilt. Anytime I feel I let anyone
down or hurt someone in any way, I feel like a terrible person, and
that’s hard to deal with. Unfortunately, I’m also a PhD student and
instructor of freshman composition, and my job involves a lot of
grading. All of my colleagues tell me to spend 10-15 minutes, tops,
per paper while grading, but I struggle to take under 30 minutes per
paper. It’s killed me all semester long, and I know I can’t keep
doing this, but I feel like I would be cheating all my students if I
didn’t take that time. Do you have any advice on how I could
Dear Guilty Grader,
I once took over five sections of English at a wild Catholic school when a teacher quit mid-schoolday. This job was torture, but also a quick education on the importance of standard shifts in grading. Like you, as a teacher I want to give my students what I think they deserve, which is time, attention and thoughtful response.
By the end of week one of this new job I found myself on a couch surrounded by over a thousand pieces of paper. I had assigned too many exercises and according to my previous grading policy, I had to comment on every single piece of paper. So, I started hyperventilating. That was the first of many corners I learned to cut.
Students benefit from comments, but moreso, they benefit from a sane teacher. If you think you can manage 30 minutes a paper, so be it. Don’t use what other teachers are doing as a litmus test for your own work. But if their 10 minute policy could save you some headache, then re-juggle your mindset and deliver. Your students will be better off having a well-rounded teacher than a book-size response to their Romeo and Juliet essay.
Cheating your students would be to rip your heart out of the job. Cheating your students would be to walk out on them mid-school day. Cutting your own previous high standards down to size to accommodate reality; this is just plain smart. In the meantime, remember that teaching is giving. Make sure, in the stress of grading, that you are being extra gentle with yourself. Doughnuts, baths, ice cream and movies are types of things that need to be doled out to you, in addition to final grades for the students.
Also, start training yourself. A “terrible person” would probably walk in and tell the students they are all retarded stupid freaks. A “terrible person” would give F’s for no reason, sleep with the hottest kid, and smack and kick the bad kids. At the end of each day take note of not having done these things to keep the concept of “terrible” in check. You sound more like a mensch.