Things your teacher never told you: I want to grade your paper less than you want to write it!

I spent a large chunk of my Sunday afternoon performing the single worst, most tedious, soul-destroying task on the planet.

No, I wasn’t rooting for the Cowboys or teaching my grandmother to use some new form of technology. It was far, far worse.

I was grading papers.

I know, I know, it doesn’t SEEM like grading papers would be that bad.

Trust me. It is. In fact, it’s worse than that bad. I would rather gouge my own eyes out with a blunt spoon than grade papers.

Which means that I truly picked a terrible profession as my day job until writing starts to pay the bills.

It probably serves me right that I’m stuck grading papers, because I was the obnoxious student who was typically outraged that my teachers didn’t run straight home and spend their entire lives grading my work so that I could get my five page paper (which I had spent no more than an hour writing, because unlike them, I had a life) back the next day. If any of my former teachers are reading this, I’m sorry.

When my students complain about a writing assignment that I’m giving them, I mentally pause and evaluate the arguments that they’re making against having to do the paper. And their arguments usually sound REALLY good. Mostly because I want to grade them FAR less than they want to write them. They don’t know how good they have it. I would trade places with them in a heartbeat, because WRITING a paper is millions of times better than having to grade sixty papers on the EXACT SAME TOPIC.

Literally, I spent hours yesterday grading essays on Twain’s use of satire in Huck Finn. One essay on that? No problem. Sixty? FML.

I’ve discovered that I have two favorite types of students when I’m grading essays: the kids who do a flawless job, requiring me to write nothing more than “Great work!” at the top with a smiley face, and the kids who don’t bother turning their work in at all. The latter group, in fact, tends to REALLY be my favorite, because they make my job that much easier. Just put a zero in the grade book and I’m done.

Unfortunately, in an honors (but not AP) English class, most of my students don’t fall into either of those categories. And if I had to write on one more paper that the writer needed to address the sarcasm that Twain used in answering the librarian who wanted to ban Huck Finn from the children’s shelf at the New York Public Library, I was going to lose it, find a megaphone, and start teaching my lessons with that because apparently when speaking at a normal volume, my explanations of satire are inaudible to teenage ears.

But the fact that I explained in excessive detail exactly what needed to be in their papers (to the point that if they brought a tape recorder and transcribed what I said word-for-word, they’d get an A+, even if they hadn’t read the book), isn’t what annoys me most about grading. Nor is it the sheer tedium of reading the same paper sixty times. It’s not even the amount of time that grading takes—time that I would far rather be spending in ANY other way.

No, the worst part of grading is that I actually take the time to do it (granted, because I have to. If I could get away without grading at all and not get fired, I would never grade another paper again), and then the kids look at the grade and promptly drop their papers in the trashcan. Not even the recycling bin. The trash. And then proceed to make the EXACT SAME MISTAKES on every other paper that they turn in for the rest of the year.

I mean, okay, I get it, you don’t care what I have to say about your writing (even though I’m a freaking published author. That’s cool. Ignore my advice), but can you AT LEAST show some environmental awareness in your choice of disposal method, just so I don’t feel like I’m wasting my time AND contributing to the ruination of the planet?

And I thought the guy standing on Rockville Pike in the tuxedo-wearing chicken suit in the rain had a thankless job.

In college, I was the queen of testing professors when I didn’t think they were reading my work. I would screw with the page numbers, leaving out a couple of numbers when my work wasn’t long enough, or using multiples with the same page number when it was too long and I didn’t feel like cutting anything out. I would mess with the margins, font size, and line spacing (for example, most people won’t spot the difference between a paper written in 12.3 point font and 12 point font—12.4 is where it starts to look obvious). And in one case, when I was positive that my professor wasn’t REALLY reading my work, I inserted a page long explanation of how I didn’t actually read the book into a ten page paper on a Willa Cather novel.

Not a single professor ever caught on.

Now, I’m tempted to use some of the same tricks with my grading, just to see if the kids are paying attention.

For example, if they got an A on the paper, would they really notice that the comments said that it was unreadable drivel, on par with the ramblings that a psychotic third grader would write entirely in goat’s blood? Or a B that said I think the author will have a fulfilling career in miniature golf ahead of him, based on his ability to fabricate information with a tiny pencil?

I haven’t done anything like that yet, but I’m pretty sure that I could get away with it.

Although, to be honest, if a kid DID put anything super creative in a paper to see if I was reading it, I’d probably give him or her an A, just for breaking up the tedium of grading.

No, not really.   I’m going to keep grading for real in the vain hope that SOME student will someday actually learn from my comments on his or her paper.

But it would still make grading a lot less mind-numbingly awful.