Life After the MFA: Grading Papers



In order to avoid grading papers, I’ve decided to write about grading papers.  This procrastination logic will make sense to everyone I know that grades papers.


There are a few ways to grade papers, each technique changing according to the time of year, what the teacher ate for dinner, the weather, how tired they are, pretty much everything.  However, there is only one wrong way to grade a paper and that is the “Checks” and “Xs” approach.  This is when you just randomly write “Checks” and “Xs” all over a paper without reading it, look at the student’s name, wonder if they are a good student or not for about three seconds and simply write, “Good job.  B+” on the back of it and turn on the television to watch House. Every teacher has done this.  If they say they haven’t, they are lying. So, now that we know the wrong way.  Let’s go over the right way.

Have no doubt, grading papers is hard work.  There is no end to how long you can spend grading a paper.  You can check the spelling, check the grammar, check the logic of the paragraph, check the MLA formatting, check the sources, check the margins, check every little thing about it and write, write, write on the paper until the paper is more ink from your pen than it is from the paper itself.  And, I know what you are going to say, people who never graded a paper before.  You teach!  You are supposed to do all that!  You can easily spend a half hour on each paper you grade.  And, if you have 50 papers over the weekend, which you sometimes do, then you can spend 25 to 30+ hours grading them.  So, yeah, sometimes you need a system.  Here is how I tackle the grading beast.


First, I read the damn thing.  I find the Thesis statement.  If it is a creative work, this might take more time.  But, if it is a simple essay, it usually takes about a minute.  I think about how logical the thesis is, how complicated it would be to solve it, and then I read the paper looking for the connection between the supporting points in the paper and the thesis statement.  That’s it.  That is what I’m looking for.  The simpler the thesis, the simpler the paper, the less effort the student put into the paper.  The more work, the more passion, the more effort, the better the grade.  Basically, I think about how long the student worked on the paper, how much they revised, how well written the paper and, finally, if the damn thing made any sense.

No. It isn’t subjective.  I knew you were going to say that.  Things make sense.  Or they don’t.  And if something doesn’t make sense, you get a bad grade.  You get a good grade if you make sense in your essay or when you convince me that your thesis, which doesn’t make sense, will make sense after I finish your paper.

This way, I look at everything.  If your grammar is poor, then your paper is going to make less sense to me.  If your sources are weak, your paper is going to make less sense to me.  If you paper is only a page, there is no way you’ll be able to make any sense to me.  And if your thesis has anything to do with Real Housewives, Aliens, or Robots (Which I’ve seen) then you might as well go ahead and give up on that “A” you were looking for.  You might think that this is easy.  Yeah, sure.  I can see how you would think that.  I can see how, picturing me in sweat pants, with twenty papers in front of me, each one ten pages, each one needing to be read in twelve hours, I can see how that would look easy. Bashing my head into a brick wall looks easy, too.  But I love my job.  I get to help people do something better.  Not many people can say that.

Also:  A new podcast is up.  It has nothing to do with grading papers.  It has everything to do with shooting virtual people in the face.  Strangely, they are similar in many ways.