Paperwork, Paperwork

Posted: January 27, 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

21st-century adult life entails entirely too much paperwork. One of my primary aversions is paperwork, which clashes most unpleasantly with my chosen profession. Nurses and doctors encounter paperwork in daily charting. Restaurateurs endure the endless weekly paperwork of inventory and ordering and scheduling. Paperwork comprises a large percentage of the duties and expectations of every profession (whether white color or blue), yet it is rarely mentioned as a path to that profession is undertaken. I’m sure this obfuscation is intentional, as paperwork is as relentless as an avalanche. For teachers, paperwork means grading.


Tricia Lunt?

I’ve been trapped under a pile of paperwork all week. I refer to time spent evaluating papers as “going into my grading cave,” since I have little time to focus on anything else. Not counting pages of journals and in-class assignments and online grammar modules, I graded 21 essays on Friday, 18 essays on Monday, 29 essays on Tuesday, and the final set of 21 essays on Wednesday, which is why I’m just now getting to my preferred version of paperwork—my own writing.

I am continually surprised by the amount of time and effort I devote to grading. About 70% of my efforts as a teacher fall under the “grading” heading, which is important work, but difficult and draining on nearly every level. Without even considering the inherent problems of attempting to conduct objective assessment, grading is overwhelming. There are always essays to grade, and a lot of them, and they need to be done immediately, because there are more assignments due next week, and they’ll need to be graded, too.

When I tell my students that grading is challenging, they (kindly) seek to simplify my life by suggesting I just “give them all A’s”. My response includes reading and discussing Roberta Borkat’s satire of higher education, “A Liberating Curriculum.”

Hello, “teachable moment!”

Although grading demands so much, it is an essential part of meaningfully engaging with my students. In order to improve their writing skills, my students must write, and I can only help them develop their writing if I study it closely, considering how their own unique voices might be made stronger, more effective.

Oftentimes, students are shocked by the extent of marks and commentary I make on their essays. I could easily provide even more recommendations, but cannot dally since another stack of essays awaits my attention. Grading offers my students the one-on-one attention they so urgently need, and ultimately deserve. I ask them to pay attention to their language use, to contemplate the validity of their examples, and to develop the logic of their arguments, so I must lead by example and give their work thoughtful consideration as I seek to help them develop useful intellectual skills, writing or otherwise.

grades2Eventually, most students come to respect and value the time and effort professors put in to grading (or evaluating, critiquing, if you like) their work. Even now, I have an email from a former Columbia student expecting my input. Meanwhile, my dance instructor asked me for editing suggestions to improve her studio’s website. I’ve edited countless cover letters and resumes for friends. And when I write anything, I solicit numerous opinions from my trusted colleagues. Just last week, I asked for reaction to the vegetable masala I’d made. Anything good can be made better, and there’s nothing quiet as useful as honest advice.

Grading reveals offers proof of this unassailable truth: criticism is love.


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