Not So Terrible After All

There’s one aspect of teaching that sucks—endless grading. It’s the soul-crushing monotonous  beast that always takes much longer than you anticipate and gets you down, man. It’s because of this that sometimes it feels—or, at least, I feel—that nothing I do as a teacher really matters. Especially when these essays and papers are riddled with errors, or when the students seem to refuse to follow directions. For example, I gave a half-hour lesson and lecture on MLA style. And I tell my students this:

Sure, it might be a pain in the ass, formatting the font and spacing, and margins, to be just like this. It might seem like a waste of time, and most of you think I’m just doing it to punish you or find reasons to take points off of your essay. But the truth is that the first bit of rhetoric your paper delivers isn’t the title. It isn’t the first paragraph, first line, or even the first word. Rhetoric begins the moment we pick up your essay, and the good folks at MLA have figured out how to make your papers LOOK and FEEL like academic essays. It has a visual appeal that fits into your rhetoric.

Less than half of my students took that advice—even though in my rubric, 5 points is just for MLA. And when you see that most of your students didn’t bother to listen, it gets you down. It kills your spirit. And you wonder what the hell you are doing wrong.

Then something really interesting happened. At Drexel, we’re on a quarter system, and the Winter Quarter is ending now. In fact, we just had our final classes. A lot of my students are taking the next level course with me as well—some because they want the theme (Heroes and Villains!) and some because they actually want me as a professor again. But what really struck me were the students who couldn’t get into my class or who were able to opt out of the next level. A few of them, after each class ended, came up to me to thank me for a nice term. They knew their grades already—it wasn’t sucking up for a higher grade—they actually enjoyed my class. A rhetoric class.

Every so often, we need this, right? A reminder that we are doing something right? And teachers of any level need this too. Our jobs can be very tedious at times. And we teach the same thing again and again and again. We get paid a laughable amount of next to nothing. Yet we keep coming back. Most would call that self-punishment, but we do it. And it’s for those few students who actually took something from your class, even if it’s just a handful out of a hundred. I just wish I could find a way to remember that while I am shoulder deep in essays.

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