We’re at that point of the semester where I have no idea why I assign my students papers and exams.
Student: When are we going to get our papers back?
Me: When did you submit them?
Student: Back in 1899.
Me: … Soon.
I need to be one of those wonderful hippie professors who have class outside on pretty days and don’t believe in grades. That would make my life so much easier. Maybe base their final grades on shoe size or ranking of their favorite rock bands. Pearl Jam’s not going to help your GPA. Oasis earns a D, thanks to “Wonderwall.” Jimmy Buffett, D. Beatles a solid C+, solid work but, you know, a little overused. Rolling Stones and Metallica earn As. Nickelback earns immediate academic probation.
It’s totally my fault. I have moral issues with collecting graded work and not providing monsoon-levels of feedback for students to
ignore improve. So I spend hours grading papers and leaving comments and line edits in Microsoft Word so that they aren’t stunned about their grades and can learn the difference between there vs. their vs. they’re by the time they graduate college.
It’s been a bizarre, personality-splitting month, editing my students’ papers while also editing my own work myself. Every waking, non-toddler, non-academic minute, I’ve been revising and proofing my novel for Pitch Wars and agent submissions. I’m in full-on editorial mode. My red pen on these 400-level book reviews is like Godzilla attacking Tokyo.
Passive voice. No. Overusing “would” when describing historical events: “Lorenzo de Medici would then travel to Rome.” No. Oxford comma. Yes. Until I die and you pry it from my cold, dead, and stiff hands. Regular double-spacing. Yes, I can tell when you use 1.25″ margins and 12.5 pt. font. That’s what they train me for in grad school and pay me the big bucks.
And THEN we get into the actual content. No, that’s not a thesis statement. No, the thesis statement you picked does not accurately reflect the historian’s central argument. What evidence does the scholar use to support his/her case? What types of methodologies are employed? What about primary sources? Are there flaws in his/her approach? Is there any bias? I’m tired of PSA ads about source-checking clogging my Facebook newsfeed. I need to do my part to make them more critical thinkers, if only about historical issues.
I make a point of warring against their papers because I like to think it matters. Higher ed, especially at a public university in a state with little funding, is hard. I get that. It’s hard to feel passionate about your teaching when you are overworked, when the student three rows down is texting again, when you don’t get paid enough to learn the names on the roster. It’s easy to get jaded. I hear about the classroom-exhaustion from some of my coworkers. Why spend hours grading these papers to this extent when they won’t learn from the edits?
You caught me. I do it for my health.
And also, maybe, the slim chance that they’ll learn to be better writers.
I mean, theirs always a chance they’re writing will improve. Right?