Sunday, November 13, 2005

Holding Court Over Memories

I have to finish grading essays today. It's fine, I don't hate it, it makes me feel good to write responses that might actually flip a light switch in a student's mind. A lot of learning can happen within a context that actually matters to someone. Not just "Look at this published essay, and how it demonstrates this and this and this," but "Look at this part of your essay; this is wonderful, but it could be better if...."

Could be better. I always feel uncomfortable saying that. Better. In some cases, "better" is the right word. When the paper is riddled with grammatical errors and an entire phase of the argument is one sentence long, or two. Then, yeah. Better. But to take organization, focus, and support into account when the ideas are all there, and the ideas are good...feels...not arbitrary, because it isn't...not wrong, because it's my just makes me feel uneasy. Yesterday I graded an essay defining the word "hero," and in the strongest part of the essay, the writer discussed his dad's fight with cancer, and his death. But it was a three-page essay, and he didn't get to that until the third page. The first two pages were sort of general statements about sports heroes, and firefighters, and Red Cross volunteers. So the section about his dad seemed underdeveloped and the essay as a whole seemed unfocused. And he's getting a B.

Students open their lives to me, and then I pass judgment on them. This must have been meaningful to you, since you're writing about it. But you haven't shown me the significance. C+. That's a lot of power, and a big responsibility. It's easy to be overwhelmed by that. But, to do my job well, I have to shake that feeling and turn the essays into something less than they are: a combination of points on a grading rubric.


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