Grading, Grading, Grading

From McSweeney’s … the four stages of grading:


– – – –

Stage I

Stage I begins in benign resentment. You’re determined, this time, not to let those 80 term papers and final exams destroy you. It won’t be like the last grading marathon at semester’s end. You will stay in charge. You have 800 pages to grade, 400 on American Drama and 400 on Literary Theory. You take out your purple grading pen.

“Power serves as an overhanging subconscious,” says the first sentence. You experience your first twinges of pain. But it’s mild, still mild. You can still giggle at the assertion that “we adopt our social roles in order to panda to society.” You picture your social role—your teacher persona—as a black-and-white herbivore performing in a zoo for a crowd of unruly students. Then a character in a play you read this semester, you learn, suffers from “post-dramatic stress disorder.” He’s also in a “post-depressive state.” You’re still pre-, but barely.

Stage II

Stage II presents with mild but steady localized pain, mostly along the GI tract, and an inability to concentrate. Despair is still contained, but it’s eyeing the lymphatic system’s freedom train. Women are “co-modified.” Men are “discluded.” Role models are “immolated.” Passages are “taken out of context due to objective reality.” “Often times” is everywhere.

Bad things are happening to language.

Martin Luther King, Jr. is “African,” while Shakespeare’s Othello is “African American,” and Shylock is “a Hebrew.”

Stage III

This stage manifests in moderate but bearable generalized pain. However, the despair—still unregistered—has entered the bloodstream. You have 400 pages to go. The mind slips and slides, rebels and resists.

“In patriarchy, women subvert to men.”

You could cry at the injustice of crimes against language.

“The son remains in an imago consciousness while his father is alive, producing a haze of control around the lives he encounters.”

More haze than control. And the fog is thickening.

“Sherman Alexie makes many unreliable opinions and dissertations, these constant changing attributes allow for irreverence towards his dominance.”

You fantasize about just giving everyone an A. You fantasize about giving everyone an F.

“Is her struggle with God to be taken simply for what it is,” a student asks of a character, “or does it represent something deeper?”

There are struggles deeper than the struggle with God.

Stage IV.

With 200 pages still to go, you hit Stage IV. Malignant language has become metastatic. It invades organs, swarms synapses. Death is inevitable. You are awash in despair.

And then: Zen. You reach the level of hysteria where language abuse crosses over into poetry. In a series of papers on an odd little play about the digital afterlife, you find the observation, “Technology keeps people alive after they are dead,” only to be succeeded, shortly after, with “It is not conventional to live although dead.”

With ten more papers to go, you take a moment to marvel. Yes, it’s true, “the world is becoming less real” and “we now have cell phones instead of psyches” and, most fabulous of all, “the surreal life is full of dead people being alive.”

You’re so punch-drunk with language-love that you go back to the “panda to society” that you’d circled earlier and add a smiley face. You become one with comma splices and run-on sentences and dangling-ass modifiers, having once been someone who was alive and had a psyche but now knowing you are dead language ghosting the surreal afterlife with a purple pen.


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  • Lovely. I’m a Panda. I also have a chainsaw-carved Panda toilet-paper holder. Wanna see a picture? Oh my, I think I’ve reached Stage V…

  • MikeK

    This is a great description! This part crossed my mind far too often: “You fantasize about just giving everyone an A. You fantasize about giving everyone an F.”

  • This is wonderful. Reading this, I feel for teachers like I never did before. I also have a mildly neurotic urge to become one, perhaps just to experience the madness first hand.

  • Jeremy

    I laughed the whole way through. I’m not an educator, but I just finished my degree. As a “mature” student, I spent a lot of time helping other students write/edit papers. It was brutal at best sometimes and I’ve done a fair bit of cringing re-reading my own stuff too. I can’t imagine trying to grade that stuff.

    Also, huge points for mentioning Sherman Alexie. He’s an awesome Native American storyteller that no one’s heard of.

  • DAK

    Wonderfully descriptive. I say that as I am facing my last batch of student papers. At this point of the semester, I am in a permanent Stage IV; or at least I hope I am as I start the task of wading through the words masquerading as prose. If I find I am not at Stage IV, a large rum and coke may help get me there!!

  • Kyle

    I’m a teacher, I grade poorly written papers, I grade them in heavy batches just like this author. But despair? Pain? I read more cynicism in this author than anything else. Well, there’s arrogance too. It’s a struggle to write well, and a teacher’s responsibility is to help a student, wherever he is. Lamenting that he swaps phonemes (completely normal given certain learning styles) or has a tendency toward overwroughtness (perhaps a definitive feature of most academia) is odd at best. It’s disheartening to read the Facebook status updates of my teacher friends denigrating the work of their students. There doesn’t seem to be much of a teacherly ethos going on here or there.

  • steve jung

    I literally finished grading my last paper 10 minutes before reading this article. I laughed, aloud (or is that out loud…I know it’s not allowed….)

  • Jeremy

    Kyle – I think the article is an attempt at humor.

  • Kyle

    Jeremy, point taken, and I’ll admit that my view was somewhat skewed by having just read a few of the aforementioned sardonic FB comments. The laughing can pretty easily veer into condescension.

  • I just finished grading…

  • Phillip

    Stage I: Procrastinating by reading “Jesus Creed” blog.

  • One of my colleagues used to say, “I teach for free, they pay me to grade.”

  • Michael Walker

    Thanks to Prof. Macchia for injecting some humor into the drudgery….

  • DRT

    I believe I kneed to pay more attention to what I right hear. I did not realize the panda….