Ask a Teacher: Do You Grade Favorites First?
Q: Do you grade your favorite students first?
A: Strictly speaking, I don’t grade my favorites at all. I just rubber-stamp an “A” on their papers, along with some standard copy about “insight” and “voice.” Then, my favorites and I use the newly-freed time to carve pumpkins, and have chummy laughs over cider.
I’m kidding, of course, and I’m also using sarcasm as a shield (this is the best way to use it). I don’t like the term "favorites," because it implies a situation similar to the one described above. In reality, I can barely manage relationships in my personal life. There is, as a result, no reason to consider me capable of having personal attachments to students so strong that I could qualify them as "favorites."
I’m a writing teacher when I’m on the job, and that’s it. Often, students whose personalities and interests gel with mine are awful writers. Other times, I find folks who would normally drive me insane writing fairly convincing, impressive essays. And I evaluate each type accordingly. It’s not my place to agree, or disagree, or have favorites. The only metric I have for judging my effectiveness is whether their writing improves. Beyond that, I have too little personal involvement with students to use a term like "favorites."
However, I might be misreading your question, and putting way too much weight on your terms. Maybe you are asking “Are there certain papers you look forward to reading more than others?” Well, there are certain papers that I anticipate more than others. As stated, all that I care about is whether or not students improve at writing, so if certain students puts in the time and effort, I want to make sure they get better at writing. Because if they do not improve, then what does that say about me?
In short, I really anticipate those papers that show me how things are going with certain students. These papers can produce a great feeling—when I get nervous about whether or not my teaching works, and then get to the paper I was nervous about to find that the student absolutely nailed it. I do look forward to those papers, of course, but there is also an admixture of gnawing apprehensiveness, because it could potentially go either way.
In a nutshell, when grading, I don’t arrange student papers in any way. I grade them in exactly the order I take them out of my bag, and since I have them turned in without names on the first page, I sometimes don’t know which student wrote what paper until writing my comments. If I do have favorites, I have totally sublimated this fact and hidden it from myself, which is possible, because I'm human.
I do actually anticipate every new batch of essays, and you know what? They usually merit some cider, and sometimes even a chummy laugh.
Mr. Jung teaches college writing in Chicago, where he lives with his fiancée and their growing collection of street maps.
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Do most of your teachers have "favorites," or are they more like Mr. Jung?