Give Graders a Break

Title sound familiar? Jeff’s post Professors Are People Too, got me thinking. On my lap right now sits a stack of theology position papers–a tall stack, I might add–to grade. Jeff and I have been blessed the past three years totag-team TA forthe first year Theology class. Jeff fills in teachingonce or twice a term as administrative responsibilities pull theprofessor away, and I do the grading.We both enjoy our respective responsibilities and Dr. Lockwood gets two TAs for the price of one–everyone wins!

What I’ve learned is that grading is a challenge beyond what most people realize. The first year we did this, I agonized over papers. I read and re-read, afraid of treating someone unfairly, afraid of devastating someone with a poor grade, even ifthepaperdidn’t merit a higher one. I went to great lengths to try to remain anonymous so no one would hate me. Now it’s become a bit easier, and my skin’s gotten a bit thicker, but it still takes an enormous amount of time and energy. No one wants to give a fellow student a bad grade.

I recently spoke with a fellow grader who had a trying experience. After a particularly difficult assignment, one which resulted in a number of poor grades, he was sitting in the student lounge and overheard a table of students fromthe class. Since no one knew he was the grader, his ears perked up as he heard them discussing their last grades. He was horrified to hear them badmouthing “the grader”, complaining, making up stories of how they betthe graderderives twisted pleasure out of giving bad grades. He was devastated. Though the experience brought growth for him, as he realized he had to let go of pleasing people and simply do his job, it was still disheartening. He’d spent hours laboring over the papers, trying to remain faithful to the professor’s strict key requirements, yet trying to be fair and gracious, reading and re-reading. Their words were quite the blow.

I share this story just by way of reminding all of us that how we respond to a poor grade is the litmus test of our spiritual maturity. How we treat the fellow student who grades our work reveals our heart. There’s nothing wrong with challenging a grade, but do we do so with humility and meekness, with a genuine attitude of concern and of wanting to improve and understand, or do we do so out of pride and arrogance, demanding our way?

Ways to Bless Your Grader

Consider thanking your grader. Consider letting him or her know that you appreciate the time they put into laboring over your work. Oh, and while you’re at it, consider these few things, they will certainly bless your grader, and might make a difference in your grade(!):

  1. Please please please please please don’ttweak your margins or your font size to make your paper longer or shorter. After reading 25 papers, a tweaked margin/font size jumps out and screams, “I can’t follow directions! I refuse to make my paper meet the assignment requirements so Iwas justlazy and changed the parameters. Please grade me down!” Call me a stickler, but this just bugs me. If the paper is 10-12 pages double spaced in 12 pt. font, write a 10-12 page paper double spaced in 12 pt. font. No more, no less.
  2. Save the plastic binder/cover things for saving your children’s artwork. They don’t make the paper any better, they just mess up the stack and make them hard to tote around.
  3. Use the appropriate citation form. If your professor says Turabian, use Turabian. This is a really easy way to make your grader happy. I have written “please see Turabian form for proper citation method” a thousand times.
  4. Humility goes a long way. I’ll admit, a paper with a cocky author just begs for red slashes. Consider your voice. Better yet, consider your character.
  5. Use quotations sparingly. Papers filled to the brim with quotations make you realize that author has no idea what they are talking about and is settling for sticking in other people’s thoughts. Quotations are meant to support your claims. When possible, incorporate material into your own words to demonstrate your comprehension.
  6. Lastly, please realize that you have touse a source in order to include it in your bibliography. Listing 25 books is not impressive if you only used 3.

I am so thankful for the privilege of being a grader, and it has definitely given mesympathy for those who have graded my papers.Let’s consider our attitudes (and our margins!), andgive those graders abreak. After all, who else is willing towade throughyour *ahem* rather dry 12-page discussion of Hebrew chiastic structure? Your grader … and maybe your mom.

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