Ask a Teacher: Do You Grade Your Favorites Less Strictly?

Ask a Teacher: Do You Grade Your Favorites Less Strictly?

By Mr. Toche

Q: Do you grade your favorites less strictly?

A: In a perfect world, everyone would be exactly the same in the eyes of the teacher, and would naturally get equal treatment during the grading of exams and papers. As a Respectable Professional, I'd like to say that's the case. I'd really like that.

Of course, our world is pretty far from perfect. Some people just make a more favorable impression than others (for a multitude of reasons), and therefore the question, quite rightly, exists—did I grade my favorites less strictly? Here's the answer: I tried not to, but it was hard. 

It's really hard. You see, I always wanted all of my students to succeed if that's what they wanted. There are always a few who just don't want to try, and you can't make them. So, except for those few, I wanted everyone to do well in the course. However, we do have these pesky assignments and tests to make sure that students are actually grasping the material. And it's stressful, I know—what if you concentrated on studying the wrong things?  What if your significant other dumped you the day before the test and you can't focus? What if OH GOD I HAVE TO GET THIS GRADE OR MY FUTURE WILL COLLAPSE?

On top of all of that, you don't want to have to worry that Jessica over there is having an easier go of it because the teacher likes her. Or that Darcel's charm and easygoing manner give him a leg up when it's time to grade essays. Well, Sparklers, don't worry. If your teacher is worth his or her salt, the grading will be done as fairly as possible. When it comes to things like multiple choice tests, of course, there's no subjectivity to the grading (as opposed to writing the test, which is probably a story best left for another day). But for papers and essay tests, obviously there's judgment involved.

And that's where the difficulty comes in. I've had students that I've been very fond of who have made elementary mistakes. And, though I didn't like it, I had to grade them down for that. I'm talking about people I had worked with intensively, who had made great efforts to comprehend the material, and who had made huge strides in the course. Then, come grading time, I would see a really basic mistake in something that I knew we had covered at least a dozen times. With—and I am not kidding here—deep sorrow and regret, I'd reach for the red pen. And that was what was hard—not applying the standard fairly, but the feeling of disappointment that came when someone who I was fond of didn't meet that standard.

Did I ever overlook a mistake to give someone a better grade? No. Absolutely not. And none of the teachers I worked with did either. But man, there were times when it was just disheartening.

So that's about it. I saw fairness as a duty, and it was one that had to be done irrespective of whether or not I liked the person whose paper I was grading. The people I worked with felt the same. And, though it's not a perfect world, you can get over some of the imperfections and be a Respectable Professional after all. It was a duty to my students, to the notion of fairness, and, of course, to myself.

Mr. Toche taught statistics, sociology, and human sexuality to college students for four years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He saw, learned, and experienced more horrors than you can well imagine in that time.

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Topics: teachers, college, School, ask a teacher, grading

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