Monday, April 25, 2011

56. Grading is miserable.

If Dante had been familiar with graduate school, he probably would have added a level of Hell to his Inferno. The condemned would sit for all eternity and read one mediocre essay after another, meticulously correct every mistake, agonize over every grade, and then throw each graded essay into a fire. Grading is the most onerous and time-consuming aspect of being a teaching assistant, but it is the reason that teaching assistantships exist (see Reason 53). The most important role of the graduate student in the modern university is to relieve professors of the burden of grading. It is mind-numbing, unrelenting, and utterly unrewarding.

Teaching assistants stare in envy at undergraduates taking an exam, because for those students the brief ordeal will soon be over. For the TAs, it is just beginning. It can take days to grade a written exam, and grading papers is worse. There are few things more discouraging than finding yourself at two in the morning reading the forty-third paper in a row on the same subject when you know that there are sixty more to grade. You will be handed another pile of papers after this one, not to mention the midterm exam and the final exam. To grade conscientiously requires a draining degree of sustained focus, and after all of your effort, you know that only a few of the students will give more than a minute’s attention to the comments that you have painstakingly written with your aching hand. And none of this work moves you one inch closer to finishing your degree.



 

31 comments:

  1. I so totally agree! I just finished grading the final exams for my professor who I will be meeting tomorrow. He'll be skimming through the exam sheets ...

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  2. I cannot possibly imagine anyone in their right mind disagreeing with this reason. Even a few honest, kindhearted profs will privately admit that grading sucks, and that this is the part of the job that never gets better.

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    1. As a grad student, I have to disagree to an extent with this one. Grading is not "that" bad. Some of the papers are hilariously bad. I enjoy giving out great marks to those who deserve it too. It's the "meh" papers that are tougher to grade.

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  3. Good reason, if not an understated one. However, I'm sure this problem is worse in the humanities: once you get a good rhythm going, marking math papers (even terrible ones) can go by fairly quickly and painlessly.

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    1. I don't grade papers. But I tutored math and saw how students did their work. (so messy and hard to follow).

      If I had to grade those math papers, I would cry for several hours, then quietly go shoot myself in my left butt-cheek just to get out of grading them.

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    2. omg that is so funny! LMAO! I mean.. LMLBCO! (laughing my left butt cheek off)

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  4. Perhaps this will appear as a separate reason, but the worst part of grading for me is the aftermath: snotty undergrad responses. "Why can't the (choose one or more: bitch, asshole, ethnic/homophobic slur) TA recognize my inhearint jeanyus?"

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  5. Dear God, this post speaks the truth.

    As a graduate assistant, I don't "assist" any professor, I "get" to run my own classes. After one particularly horrible batch of papers, I allowed my students to redo the assignment after seeing my comments. Even knowing the hours of work I had just created for myself, the most frustrating part of the whole experience was the lack of any appreciation from the students.

    The other thing that I never realized as a student was how horrible it feels to give a bad grade. Teachers/Professors feel no joy in giving a paper a D, even when it merits one.

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  6. And isn't it sad that spotting plagiarism, at least for grad students I know, now becomes a thrill ride?!

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  7. That woman in the painting is hot

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  8. I've just read through the majority of this blog, and my God it is depressing. I don't mean to sound snooty, pretentious or condescending, but US graduate students seem to get a raw deal to say the least.

    I'm starting a PhD in September in Molecular Biology. What I'm embarking on is a good PhD program, but by no means unbelievable or unheard of within the UK. It's disconcerting to compare the ordeal of a US PhD and to the comparatively heavenly UK PhD.

    Firstly, I have no teaching assistant duties whatsoever. If I wish I can conduct private tuition to supplement my income. Secondly, my tuition/university fees are fully paid by the university with an additional £15,000 (~$25,000) stipend. Third, the average length of the PhD is 3 years 3 months for my department. The maximum length is 4 years; the shortest time to complete a PhD I know of is 2 years 6 months. Fourth, travel stipends are provided for one national and one international conference during my PhD (more can be provided on justification).

    I'm not trying to boast here; but that is the standard (give or take) for a PhD in a top 10/20 University in the UK for a Science PhD.

    I never considered a US PhD as I have family members who are reliant on me, and so couldn't move outside of the UK, and have stumbled across the chaos of the US system because of this week’s Nature. Seriously though, the US PhD system has to get better quickly because it seems a cruel and inhuman form of torture. US universities seem to prolonging "education" to their own ends.

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  9. I'm a prof, and fully willing to admit that grading sucks. I hate it. We're required to assign TAs no more papers that we ourselves grade, so the load is shared equally.

    I would love not to have TAs -- what is weirder than not reading all of your students' work? -- but our classes are so overstuffed that it would not be possible to grade even one paper assignment's worth of papers without TAs. So off we all go to suffer through our first paper of the quarter.

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    1. Equal grading is rare

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  10. Anon 12:13:

    Wow! Is equal grading really enforced at your university? That sounds pretty good, actually.
    All my experiences have been with weaselly profs who say at the beginning of the class, "Oh, yes, we'll divide the work," and then end up leading one token section, or grading only the papers of the few star undergraduates. Then there are the profs who are very flexible about paper deadlines because they think it will make them look cool to the undergraduates. (They're not doing the grading, of course.) And the ones who force TAs to give drastically lower grades, because they are going to be the one-man or one-woman warrior against grade inflation. (They don't have to deal with the fallout.) But I could go on and on. Great blog!

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  11. Grading is a pain, and time consuming, and students always complain to you about your judgments.

    But it's just a part of the job that's drudgery, all jobs have those. The issue here, I think, is that we aren't acually PAID to do that. I suppose TAs are. But adjuncts? not so much. Even tenured professors, theoretically they are getting paid to produce research, not teach. It's all about where we place the value in the education machine. Grading and giving feedback is one of the major ways in which we teach and get students to learn and improve. Yet grading (and to some extent lecturing) is obviously not considered a real job.

    Not much will change until attitudes about what has value versus what makes profits changes in our culture.

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  12. Another horrible part about grading is when the student complains about losing points for poor grammar and then badgers you about the points lost even with comparison papers to look at.

    I always found that I was incredibly happy when a student did well, and that the hardest part about grading essays was deciding about point loss. I could read a paper and know that it was a "B" paper, but then I had to undergo the task of point removal to reach that "B".

    Although, semester paper time was one of my favorite times during the semester. Yes, the papers were often horrible, but they were also very funny at times (much like MST3K).

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  13. a little off topic, but how about a post on just how god-awful and narcissistic most professors are? That you'll spend most of your graduate career trying to build a relationship with them, to gain their trust and support, and find that they're just horribly petty, mean-spirited people. They don't inspire grad students, they suck the will to live from them. I had enough when my advisor shouted at me "when I say jump, your ONLY response is 'how high!'"

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  14. After reading SL+MPT's comment, I really think the British system is on to something: accept far fewer students into graduate programs, give them the resources they need to complete their degrees in a reasonable amount of time, and let them get on with what will then be the much easier task of finding a job in a less glutted labor market. I wonder how many administrators of graduate programs are reading this blog.

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  15. Anonymous 1:25, Yes, but then American programs wouldn't have a ready supply of broke grad students to do the bulk of their teaching in exchange for minimal compensation and no benefits.

    It would also be great to start eliminating some graduate programs altogether to reduce the glut of PhDs and maintain high standards, but then departments would lose that added prestige of having a graduate program.

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    1. And a lot of cheap labor and warm bodies to fill the seminars profs want to teach. It's a business proposition.

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  16. Of course, if grading those test papers becomes too difficult, you can do what my professors did -- that is, not read them. They inevitably claimed my poor penmanship as their excuse (even my high school teachers complained about my handwriting).

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    1. Really? I turned in physics homework my freshman year that was messy and got it back as an F. He wrote on the paper that is was a total mess and would I ever have dared to give a disaster like that to an employer. Sad thing is, my answers were right. Not sad thing is I haven't turned in messy homework or tests since. (Anyone can print legibly)

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  17. really? you simply can't be held responsible for writing legibly?

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  18. Grading is certainly dull and time-consuming, but that's not even the worst part. The worst part comes after passing back graded papers: the students lining up after class to argue with your grading, the inbox overflowing with e-mails from students asking to get points back, etc.

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  19. @anon April 27, 2011 8:57 PM

    you are my hero for pointing this out. yes! Reason on prof narcissism!! they are jerks, almost without exception.

    if you "had enough" means you quit, congratulations! am thinking about same, and am finally sure it's the sanest idea i've had in years.

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  20. I liked grading... but then, grading science exams is very different from grading English papers.

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  21. @British Ph.D: This blog gives you a somewhat grim, dystopian view of the US experience. My education is fully funded, and I was granted three years of fellowship money, which amounts to a living stipend. For the years I'm not on fellowship, yes, I have to teach one class a quarter to get that same stipend, but, frankly, I see that as a positive aspect of the program. It gets me teaching experience, and it allows me to become a more capable teacher before I'm on the tenure track and my performance actually affects anything. We get travel funding as well - automatic for one national conference, and possible for one international.

    At my university, 99% of the professors do all of their own grading, unless the class is massive or they're extremely senior. For instance, I know my advisor and her husband (both of whom are full professors with tenure) grade everything for their courses, even when they're teaching the grim first-year ones. It's a thoroughly painful part of academic life, but it's hardly something unique to grad school.

    Basically, if you aren't up for teaching and grading, the academic life is probably not for you in general.

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  22. @British Ph.D.: The experience described by Anonymous 1:10 is the exception, not the norm. I am a graduate student at an Ivy League university in one of the top programs in my discipline. I have it pretty good, and I still receive less funding and have to do more teaching than Anonymous 1:10. The professors I have encountered rarely do any, let alone all, of their own grading. Instead, the kind of asshattery described on this blog continues unabated.

    And this has nothing to do with my not being "up for" teaching and grading. I'm a talented teacher who has designed and taught her own classes. I'm a careful, thorough grader who started grading as soon as papers came back to me so that I could limit my myself to a few papers a day and not be miserable. Grading and teaching are difficult, often unrewarding tasks. Plain and simple.

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  23. Thanks, I needed to read this. I am procrastinating so much, to prevent myself from grading papers I just typed into Google "I hate grading papers" to see what popped up. Why have I not returned these papers after a month? Because every time I sit down, I read my email first ("Will I lose points if I go over the page limit?;" "Do I have to double space in APA?"). By the time I get through with these emails I take a break then have lost momentum...Signed, "Prof"

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  24. Moral of the story, get a mill degree, move to u.k. Get a job, oh wait you might actually have to back your degree up with expertise in a field....fyi I'm in a m.s. Program in my field (life sciences), it is common for your education to be paid for at the m.s. And phd levels...and yes this is a drunken run on sentence...but neways, full time students have various options research assistanceships, ta, etc.... Typically these take no more then 20 hours a week, pay for your full tuition, pay you a monthly paycheck (only about $700-900 a month) and gets your (sometimes very expensive) research completely funded, and provides funding to travel to conferences....wow I'm still running on....sigh fug it....pce out ....ho ho ho

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  25. If someone hates their job then why the hell are you doing it? All you do is complain and rag on students then you are obviously not teacher material! As a journeyman electrician, if I see someone getting complacent in their job than it is up to the foreman to tell them that they are not in the right trade. Move on to another line of work.

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