November 24, 2010

Grading; A Tragi-Comedy in Five Acts

All this happened…. More or less.

Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Dramatis Personae

Danielle: A lowly (but not inexperienced) grader who writes a fascinating blog that you should really read…. Otherwise known as: yours truly.
Lisa: A recently-minted MA in English who teaches her own class this semester, but has been part of the “academic musketeers” since before her graduation last May.  A frequent sanity-checker on all things academy-related, and someone who graded with Danielle last semester.
Brian: The third musketeer and a colleague of Danielle’s.  Was asked to take Lisa’s place as grader when Lisa graduated and started teaching her own classes.
John: The professor they all grade/graded for.

Act One

Curtain up on a one-bedroom apartment that hasn’t been cleaned in far too long.  Danielle sits glumly in front of her computer with a stack of completed grading by her left hand.  She looks to the stack, looks to the computer’s screen where she has pulled up a spreadsheet of the grades she gave, then sighs.  Despite her best efforts, there is simply nothing she can do about the fact that the papers are really and truly sub-par.  She crunches some numbers and realizes that her chunk of the class, as of now, has a 76% pass rate on this paper.  She thumbs back through the papers listlessly, wondering if there’s any way she can bump a few Ds to Cs.  She wonders about the ethics of such a decision; simply because the class is doing poorly does not mean that she should lower her standards, right?  And it’s not like her standards were so high to begin with… all she needed from a paper to pass it was some sign that the student had an argument, any argument, just something to say about a work read in class.

She asks a good friend who happens to be a high-school teacher what his standard pass rate is.  He tells her 95%.  She feels even worse.  She mentions that the students do have the opportunity to re-write for a better grade.  He says that in that case, 76% is probably just fine.  She feels the need to defend John who she knows for a fact is an amazing professor since he has been her professor on occasion in addition to being her boss.  It’s not his fault that his class can’t write papers.  It’s the… high-school teacher… right… she feels awkward about this argument and ceases to have it.

She steels her reserve and stuffs the finished pile into its manila inter-office envelope to drop in John’s box after she attaches the typed commentaries to the individual papers.

Act Two

Danielle enters the English Department common room with manila envelope of graded papers in one hand and stack of typed commentaries in the other.  She puts both of these down on the long table at which Lisa is already sitting grading her own stack of papers.

Lisa: Hey.
Danielle: Hey.
Lisa: How you doing?
Danielle: Okay…. I can’t shake this feeling though…
Lisa: What’s wrong?
Danielle: This stack of papers was awful.  Well and truly awful.  Worse than we had last semester.  And… I graded them accordingly, but I can’t help but wonder if I was a bit heavy-handed.  My pass rate was 76%.
Lisa: I mean, you may have been.  Even John says that you’re a tougher grader than Brian.  The comments you two give are probably the same, but the letter grade is different… so John admits to swapping the stack around so that you and Brian aren’t always grading the same students’ papers and it all averages out.
Danielle: That’s good, I guess, but I still don’t feel great about it…
Lisa: Well what grades did you give out?
Danielle: A couple Ds… one C minus… the passing grades were mostly B minuses.  I did give out two A’s though.
Lisa: C minus isn’t a failing grade.
Danielle: Really?
Lisa: Yea, since John can’t technically put a C minus in the grading box, he’ll bump it up to a C and the paper will pass.
Danielle: well that makes me feel better I guess, that means my pass rate’s over 80%...
Lisa: Did you give any Fs?
Danielle: No.
Lisa: In that case, you’re fine.  Let’s go get beer.

Act Three

Lisa and Danielle are imbibing in beer and wings at the local college dive bar.  Brian rushes in late, clearly upset, clearly out of breathe.

Brian: You guys would not believe the morning I have had.
Lisa: Order a beer and tell us…
Brian: I have seen and done a lot of things in my time… but today, today was a first.  I nearly got into a fistfight on the highway.
Danielle: How is that possible?
Brian: Apparently some guy thought I cut him off so he drove right in front of me, slammed on his breaks to force me into the shoulder, and got out of his car screaming that he was gonna kick my ass.  But he wasn’t.  Because if someone screams about it, they’re not going to do it and I haven’t slept in forty-eight hours, how was your stack of papers?
Danielle: Uhm… should you nap or something?
Brian: No, I had a five-hour energy before leaving the house.
Danielle: So… mine were
Brian: AWFUL?  No really, AWFUL?
Danielle: Yea… yours too, huh?
Brian: Yea, I gave out five Ds, but you’re a tougher grader than I am so I was wondering how many you failed…
Danielle: Breathes a sigh of relief Actually, about the same. 
Brian: How many As did you give?
Danielle: Two solid As and one A minus.
Brian: I hate to say this, but I have no real As and the ones I did give out I only gave because they were that much better than the rest in the stack…
Lisa: I love my class.  I seriously feel like I have the best students in this school.  None of the papers I got were like the ones we got from John’s kids last semester, and the ones that were bad came from the good students who ran out of time or had friends who committed suicide or something…
Brian and Danielle glare at Lisa for a while.

Act Four

Danielle pokes her head into John’s office while he is on a break between classes.

Danielle: John?
John: Oh, hey, thanks for the papers.
Danielle: Yea, no problem.  You take a look at my PhD writing sample yet?
John: Yes.  It’s great.  I have copious commentary.  My cat messed up my filing system and I completely forgot to bring it to you today.
Danielle: I’m not even going to ask.  Hey, did you also have a look at the grades I gave out?
John: Yes, looks fine to me.  You’re a tougher grader than Brian, so I expected that.
Danielle: I just felt so bad doing it…
John: Sometimes the best you can do is offer the most constructive commentary you can give.  You can’t just pass them because they turned in something that could have been written by monkeys at typewriters.  Here, have another stack of grading.

Act Five

Danielle sits in her room once more tapping a pencil against her desk.  She is trying to blog about her week and realizes that she doesn’t know what the proper stylistic form is for the letter representation of a grade in a sentence.  A or “A”?  And how do you make it plural?  She blogs anyway and hopes that she guessed correctly.


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