Day 129: Ellen, Upper School history teacher

[ By on April 29, 2013 ]

“Like the poor, Lyman’s grading will always be with us.” Thus did my grandmother (paraphrasing Jesus) account for the beginning of each holiday, as my dad, a college instructor graced with more than his share of Freshman Comp papers, invariably dragged a pile of student essays along. “Gotta get the grades in” set the rhythm of my family life. And here I am, carrying on the family tradition. My daughter has learned that “Mommy’s grading (groan)” shapes almost every weekend.

Now that we’re in Term Paper Season, I read dozens of thesis statements, outlines, and essays on the same topic. The. Same. Topic. Why not just get a computer to respond to them? The parts are the same, the topic is the same, and the software is out there. Syntax glitch? EdX will flag it! Mixing up the Coercive Acts with the Stamp Act? EdX will straighten it out! But the uniformity of theme masks something complex, something that I love to be part of. Students wrestle with ideas: how to shape them, how to order them, how to express them gracefully. It’s hard, and there are no shortcuts. Sometimes students don’t pull the parts together. But in almost every instance, there’s that flash when they see how to solve a problem in their writing.

I can honestly say that working with students on these essays does not give me new insight into the British colonial crisis in North America. My learning comes not from the actual product about the actual topic, but from seeing smart, sometimes frustrated, usually tired students create something new out of the bits and pieces they’d laboriously gathered.

Ellen likes reading, travel, hanging out with her family, the first light green buds on trees in springtime, and, believe it or not, grading. But also being done with grading.

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