Sunday, November 9, 2008

Monday's coming

Today's post resurrecting a fortnight-old scarf is at Toxophily.

I put off grading essays as long as I can. I've developed eminently workable strategies for getting them done (mark on a tablet, read three a day -- no more, no less, recruit a teaching assistant to take care of the grammatical minutiae). But I still dread it.

The truth is, I don't dislike it while engaged in the task. Sure, it's labor-intensive and takes more concentration than other educational tasks; it's impossible to multitask while grading. But I usually find that I'm passionate about what I'm communicating to the student, and often I feel gracious as I find something to praise them about.

The problem is that it's such a solitary activity. When you do it, you have to shut everybody out and just get down to business for as long as it takes. It feels like a trip to the salt mines, a difficult job with no social niceties to redeem it, a stack of jobs that it's hard to make a dent in.

But today, while listening to Teri's sermon and thinking about the joy of listening attentively to an interesting, wise person speak, I realized that I was letting the lonely aspects of grading blind me to its real nature. Everyone needs a balance between communicating and being communicated to. I love putting myself in the power of a storyteller or a thinker, being the listener who's silently turning over information in her head. But I also love being the communicator, the lecturer, the leader. I have things to say that I think are important. It's exhausting, and I can't keep it up all day -- so I view my listening time as recreation. Reverse the proportions of my usual routine, though, and I see lecturing, writing, leading as recreation. I need both, and I enjoy both.

Grading essays is actually communication. It's an active mode, a mode of being in control of the discourse, a leadership mode. But because of the way it's done, alone and intense, under deadline pressure, in frantic bursts of gotta-get-it-done activity, it's easy to forget that grading has an audience. The communicative aspects of reading and marking essays get lost because the workflow seems stuck on my desk, cycling from in-stack to out-stack. It feels like pushing papers, not making a connection -- but actually, it's a moment of individualized, sequential control and leadership.

I think if I can remember that grading fits on the active side of my balance, I'll be more eager to seize that opportunity. It's a gestalt switch for me -- one that I'm looking forward to trying out in order to change the way I look at this necessary task.

1 comment:

Kerry said...

I think it's easy to forget the impact we can have on the world. We forget that spontaneous words may be pondered by our listener for days or even years. What do we want those words to be?

When words are put in writing, they exist forever, as Izzi tried to convey to Tommy in "The Fountain". The communication of thoughts from one to another, as in an essay writer and a paper-grader, will cause an idea to live on, perhaps to be put aside and returned to years later with a different perspective. Together we will live forever...what a huge responsibility and honor it must be to take part in such dialogue.