Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Futility, or Why Grading is Like Frogging

Here's the deal.

Every semester I get a bunch of new students. My job is to train them to be good researchers and writers. Around this time every semester, I grade their "big" projects, and I'm usually very, very frustrated. Here's what I'm thinking: Why didn't they do the reading? Why didn't they follow the basic instructions on the assignment sheet?

Why was I so naive to think they would do the reading or follow the basic instructions on the assignment sheet?

By the end of the semester, they somehow get it together, but inevitably, in early November, I hit this nadir of grading doom.

And next semester, I get to do it all over again. When I think about that, I start to freak out.

I think I'm doing something wrong.

Here's a metaphor:

Imagine knitting a complicated lace scarf, with impossible-to-memorize charts, teeny-weeny needles, and spider-web yarn. You have your face buried in the pattern and close to your tiny needles, and it seems that the fabric that is coming off the needles way too slowly.

Then, imagine that someone rips out the whole scarf and you have to start over again.

Now imagine that this happens every four months for your entire career.

That's what grading papers feels like to me. At least it does today.

Boy am I in a bad mood.


(un)Deniably Domestic said...

I teach the same subject. Feel better to realize you are not alone. I hit the same wall, but have realized that this wall may be fabricated differently than I have thought all along. Students make choices. Their writing and reading, or lack of writing and reading, is often a product of choice. Recently, I have enjoyed the insanity of teaching high school again in our bridging program. Students are coming to us accustomed to making choices to not follow directions because there are no consequences. I am learning it takes several instances of me standing firm to convince them to make different choices. I will not waste my time on bad choices. If the assignment is not followed, then clearly the student is not ready to have their essay evaluated. A zero goes into the grade book and, hopefully, they choose to revise. Often, I am finding they do not. ARGHHHH! Thinking of you. Have a glass of wine. ~Kelly

Healigan said...

Oh, man. We are having the same week. I teach high school, though, and just flunked 5, count 'em, 5 honors juniors for the quarter because they just did not believe me when I said that if they did not do the work, they would fail. Today I found myself almost begging them to read the first act of Macbeth! I shamelessly pointed out the greed, ambition, witches and gratuitous blood to try and sell them. I feel dirty.

KRGP said...

@ Kelly. Thanks for the reminder that it's not all MY fault as the students would have me believe. I'd have the wine if I weren't preggo. I'm having it in my head.

@Healigan. And of course they blamed you for the bad grades, right? That's my favorite part.

I hope the weather is pretty tomorrow, at least!

Beck said...

I'm sorry you're having a bad day. As a college student, I always made sure to follow the instructions, but then I was older than all of my peers by a good 10 years so I had a different mindset. Good for you and the other commentors for sticking to your guns and sometimes flunking people who deliberately ignore your instructions.

Lisa said...

I taught college for 10 years, leaving 10 years ago for the knitting/writing life. Sounds like nothing has changed in the college teaching life. Do you have students -- usually freshmen -- who think that showing up to class is sufficient to get them a passing grade? Who don't understand the concept of generating a product that might be, oh, graded?
I miss the students, but I don't miss grading. Most of the time.