Sunday, December 1, 2013

How to Stay Positive While Grading the Soul Sucking Thing that is Student Essays

Beautiful and cold Sunday in December. Perfect for cuddling on the couch, in front of a fire, and watching football.

What am I doing?

Grading thesis essays.

Grading essays is the hardest part of my job. Okay well, not the hardest in terms of difficultly of doing, because, frankly, it is quite easy to sit there and read the essays since they are written by freshmen. What makes them the hardest is the fact that no matter how long I stand up there in class and tell students how to write a good paper or how many times I allow them to sign up to come see me for help on writing their paper, these papers are still a struggle to grade because they don't listen to what I say or take my offer for help seriously.

That is the most frustrating thing about grading thesis essays. I have been teaching for three years and I still can't get over the frustration that grading essays causes.

In this particular case, I spent 5 days in class teaching them how to write. We wrote a sample essay as a class and I gave my students a step by step guide on how to write a well thought out thesis essay.

Not only did I spend 5 lessons on this, I also was available before and after school for the two weeks students had to write their essays. I had a sign up sheet since they are freshmen and need a little push to have them come talk to teachers.

Only a handful signed up.

The first year I did this, I was full of dreams and expectations that students would come rushing to sign up and follow my directions step by step.

Of course, as do most dreams you have while teaching, these dreams were crushed.

Last year, aka year two, I had the same dreams with the though that "It is a new batch of students and they will surely follow every step."

Yet again, I was wrong.

So when I did it this year, aka year three, I had zero expectations and, if this is even possible, had negative expectations. How am I supposed to stay positive when none of my students take my help?

Then it hit me: The writing process isn't about the paper, it is about the student's attitude. My students hear me but they don't listen. They take the notes but they don't follow them.


Because they are teenagers. Not just any teenagers, but young teenagers who are navigating the tricky world of new friends, new drama, new feelings, new everything. They are concerned about school but not education. They care about turning in the essay but they don't realize that all those things I have said about paper writing applies to them because they have more important things on their minds.

You and I both know that these things they are concerned with won't be important in 10 years but you try telling that to a teenager.

So, what caused me to come to this startling realization? The freshmen I had in year one are now juniors. They are writing more and more complex papers for English, for history, for science, for every subject they have. More than one has come back to me, their lowly freshmen English teacher, and have asked me to look at their essay. When I ask them why me and not their current teacher, they reply with something along the lines of:

"I just remember you taking the time to teach me how to write. I didn't listen because I was a freshmen and didn't believe you when you said that I would need to know this later. I need your help now. Hopefully you're willing to help me."

(Granted, it isn't as eloquent as that usually but you get the gist.)

The students that crushed my dreams are now restoring them. Granted, they are two years late but they finally came through.

That is how I stay positive and keep doing what I have been doing. They aren't ignoring me now because they don't recognize my willingness to help; they have put the information in their brain but it just hasn't processed yet because other things are taking up the room.

I can't give up just because I haven't helped them now. I have to stay positive because they will eventually grow as a person and realize that I have been trying to help them all along, even if it is two years later.

That is how I stay positive will grading these essays which is exactly what I am going to continue to do now as I watch football out of the corner of my eye.

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