Wednesday, October 14, 2009

How (Not) to Grade Papers

It's that time of year again. The days are shorter, the nights longer, the storms more violent, the leaves more vibrant. And slapping up against your desk--yes! here it comes!--a tidal wave of student papers. Here's your seasonal guide for wading through the mess: How to Grade Papers.

As soon as you get them, page through them with great anticipation.Then stuff them in your pack and carry them all day every day for as many days you can manage.The weightier the load the better; hauling enormous quantities of student papers on your back builds both character and muscle mass.

It's important to keep your papers with you at all times. You never know when you'll get stuck in traffic, hung up at the airport or forced to do time in a hospital waiting room with a kid with a broken arm. A pack full of reasonably fresh papers could save you from the germ-ridden copies of National Geographic, circa 1976, that hold down the tables of at least six of the better-known radiologists in town.

When finally the day of reckoning comes--you've promised to return the papers TOMORROW--take your time. Warm up to the task slowly. Stretch. Try to remember a few yoga moves. Start your day with breakfast (always a good idea) and a strong pot of coffee. Take in the mail, a load of wood, build up the fire. Take out the trash. Sort the recycling. Do a load of laundry. Check your email. Hang out the laundry. Go back to your computer: where was it that great-aunt Ruth lived? Has Googlemaps photographed that street yet? Plan where you will take your winter holiday if you can ever afford to do so. If you haven't done so yet, download that fancy Googlemaps flyer feature (already several years old) and surf low, lower over the Andes. Oops! Smash! Cloud cover. Land in the Pacific. Worry, briefly, about how quickly the day disappears.

Is it time for lunch yet? Eat your lunch. Rake leaves or shovel snow if you're fortunate enough to have some. Make a pot of tea. Fluff up the pillows on the couch; you'll need to be comfortable. Talk to the dogs and pet the cats for awhile; you wouldn't want them to think you're neglecting them. Let one out and another in. Repeat as many times as necessary. Put another log on the fire. Choose three perfect cds--calming but not too calm. You don't want to fall asleep. Make another pot of tea. Take in the laundry; too bad it's frozen stiff. Lay it out on the bed until it dries. Let in a cat, let out a dog. Move a cat. Answer the phone. Check your email. Lie down with a cat for a five minute nap....Oh no, look, it's dinner time!

Have a drink. Prepare dinner--quickly now, you're busy! Feed the dogs and cats. Let them out. Bring in another load of wood. Let in two cats and one dog. Go search for another, the rotten beast, making you get up from your chair and into your boots. When the dog is found, sit by the fire a spell to warm up. Make a pot of tea. Consider watching a movie; the whole day is nearly shot after all. Choose three more cds. Add a shot of whiskey to the tea--oh just be brave and have it straight up! Have a bit of chocolate. Rats, the mortgage is due tomorrow. Check your accounts online; transfer funds; check your email. Now we're getting close.

It's not midnight yet? Consider going to sleep anyway. You're tired; there's so much to do and you can always get up really early in the morning to grade. Don't forget to fold your laundry.

TIP: Never start grading you can easily put off. Put another log on the fire. Isn't there anything else you can do?

This post grew out of a writing assignment modeled on Karen Finlay's Enough is Enough: Weekly Meditations for Living Dysfunctionally (New York: Poseidon, 1993) that I've given periodically to my writing classes. This year, I decided to do it. Happy grading. As my brother Les says, when you're teaching, you're always in arrears.

Images are all from a cellphone camera:
NSCAD office desk with plaster apple (gift of a student, of course)
Kitchen table filled with distractions
Linus, one luscious and demanding kitty
After midnight