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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Kari Patterson
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  • Appreciated your post on this. I do, however, want to pose a question to you with a little bit of background, and get your feedback on it. I am at seminary and have several friends who are TA’s and graders, so I have had this discussion with them. And I resonate with the need for humility and grace, instead of criticism when talking about grades and graders.

    However, I have been bothered by this whole system in the first place. My concerns have not been whether or not I get a good grade, or even a fair grade, but whether or not I am getting a fair evaluation of my progress from the professor. In a system of student TA’s and graders, it is feasible that the Professor passes me through the class without ever having to interact with any of my work.

    I believe the graders and TA’s to be fair and judicious assessors of a professor’s rubric, but I miss the actual interaction with the professor through the assignments they deem important. I am of the opinion that if professors don’t have the time to look over and grade their own assignments, then perhaps they need to adjust their assignments (less busy work like reflection papers, more substantial ones like exegetical/research papers or exams), or adjust their other commitments outside of the classroom to allow them time to actually shape and influence their students.

    My question (perhaps my problem) is, Why do I pay as much in tuition as I do if I am being evaluated, assessed and graded mostly by peers, and not by actual professors? I came to seminary to learn and be developed by these men in particular, yet I seem to have very little interaction available with them. The least they can do is actually comment and guide me through their own assignments.

    That’s my question and my two cents. What do you think?

    Chris Gensheers last blog post..Reflections on Worship (Part 1) – What is worship?

  • Some great points, Kari. I can fully understand how time-consuming and difficult of a task this could be. But, I must confess, I am also sympathetic to what Chris says here. I am aware that our professors employ only qualified students, and I am also aware as you mention here that our graders put in the utmost effort, I still always feel at little uneasy when I know that a professor hasn’t touched my paper.

    I’m curious…when you and Jeff TA at Multnomah, does a professor get a final go-over on things you grade?

    This is especially a concern for me because I want to make sure that my research papers are top-notch. I’m planning on heading into the academic world, and I need to know that my work is suitable for that pursuit.

    Jake Belders last blog post..Bertrand: (Re)thinking Worldview

  • Hey Chris, Thanks for commenting. I completely hear your sentiments. I guess where I’ve landed is that I’m honored and privileged to have the lecturing, class discussion time, office hours, and personal interaction of professors, and have accepted that they can’t do everything. I’d much rather write interactive papers that are graded by experienced students than take scantron-sheet tests which don’t help me truly assimilate and process information. I’d rather the professor have time to interact with students rather than spending dozens of hours each week grading papers, and at least at our school it is a very small handful of courses which actually merit having TAs. Most courses don’t.
    So, I hear you, and I guess I’ve just landed at recognizing professors can’t do it all, and of all the responsibilities to delegate, paper grading seems the best choice.
    I appreciate your thoughts, and you taking the time to read and interact here. All the best on your seminary journey!

  • Last thing (to Chris and Jake), it is usually first-year courses that have TAs. Advanced-level courses, especially those preparing students for doctoral work, don’t have TAs, at least at Multnomah. It seems to me that by the time you reach 2nd and 3rd year courses, you “earn” more professor attention, including the personal grading of papers. But I can only speak from my experience at our school …

    No, Jeff and I have the final go-over of the papers in our TAing class, but in another class I’ve just begun grading for, my professor will review my first batch of papers to ensure that they are according to her standards, then free me to do the remainder without her final review. I’m not certain how other professors do it.

    Kari Pattersons last blog post..The Disappointment Cycle

  • Great list Kari.

    Speaking of Turabian… there a good website that gives an easy overview of that? I’m still used to MLA and haven’t found anything that explains Turabian well. I have to start using it says Dr. Kim.

    Tylers last blog post..Fortuitous Bouncing

  • Hey Tyler! Yeah, eventually Turabian comes and grabs you by the throat–at least at Multnomah. The Turabian book, “A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses , and Dissertations” (by Kate Turabian) is in the library. That’s the exhaustive source, but Jeff made up 2 pdfs with quick overviews as handouts for students. I’m emailing them to you…

    Kari Pattersons last blog post..LiveDifferent Challenge (28): Pen, Paper, and 42-cents

Written by Kari Patterson