The Most Offensive Word in a Composition Instructor’s Vocabulary


The very word makes teachers squirm. Writhe even. Especially English teachers. Let’s face it–grading 100 papers four times in a semester is borderline unbearable.

Add to that the fact most teachers who truly care about improving student writing require at least one draft before a student turns in the final paper, and the G-word becomes the most hated utterance in the teaching profession.

Instructors and adjuncts often shoulder the brunt of this grading load in college English departments. We primarily teach the composition courses where most of the writing and drafting occurs. These are the courses that full-time faculty avoid–presumably for that very reason. And, of course, despite the fact we are expected to carry the majority of the grading load, we are only awarded a miniscule amount of the payroll budget, but that’s another story.

First of all, I want to say I actually do not mind grading. Imagine that. I enjoy reading student papers in all their comma-riddled glory. I happen to LIKE teaching composition. It’s fun. Yep, I said it. Fun. When I see a student dramatically improve from Paper 1 to Paper 3, and that student thanks me in her course reflection essay, I have to say it is about the most exciting and rewarding experience imaginable to me. So, yeah, grading is a part of that, and as a result, I don’t mind it. This past semester, however, stretched my grading good will to new limits.

For the first time in my teaching career, I had four sections of the same course. Initially I thought to myself, “Hey, this isn’t bad–only one prep!” While this was true, I quickly learned this type of teaching load has its own unique drawbacks.

Like Drawback Number 1 for example ? 100 papers due on the same day. Yikes. Over time, I have managed to whittle down my grading time to about 12 minutes per paper, so I grade at about 5 papers an hour. I know people who grade faster. In fact, one of my colleagues told me he spends about six minutes on each paper. I just can’t devote the attention required to make a paper better in less than ten minutes or so. Anyway, so 5 papers an hour is about where I top out. In addition to this, if I try to grade more than 8 papers in a row, I start to get sloppy/careless/angry/easy/distracted. Sound familiar to any of you? I’ve worked it down to grading stints of about 90 minutes during which I grade approximately 8 papers. Realistically, I can only handle about three of these 90 minute blocks each day before I go braindead and/or stop being helpful.

On my first round of papers this semester, I managed to get them all graded in four days. Four 10 hour days of literally nonstop grading. But, I will tell you right now, I vowed never ever to do that to myself again. It was pretty horrible, and afterwards I didn’t want to speak to anyone, let alone have to walk right back into the classroom and put on a chipper face. I decided I would come up with a brand new plan for Paper 2. And this plan would not include bruised fingertips, bloodshot eyes, and an oatmeal brain.

Stay tuned for the Paper 2 assignment redux in my next post. In the meantime, anybody have any tips for making grading easier? How do you handle grading in your courses?