Liquid Ink

The official website of Gint Aras, Finalist 2016 CWA Book Award

Grading what does not exist

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I am approached every semester, usually about 10 to 11 weeks in, by at least one student who has not turned in a single bit of homework and yet is very interested to know how he is “doing”. I use *he* with purpose. Probably four out of five of the students who’ve asked me this question over the years have been men.

My answer is always the same: You haven’t turned anything in. The student will, as a student did earlier today, stare at me in wonder, even bafflement. It’s as if there’s some hidden meaning, some riddle, some plastic we could bend to crack and reveal, pop!, the answer beyond what’s obvious. The student did not ask me to tell him how much homework he had handed in. He asked me to explain how he is doing, and I clearly misunderstood. Now the young man is at a loss. Should he repeat himself?

Some of them ask, “So, like, whaaaaat? You know. Does that, like, mean I’m not doing…good?”

I’m fascinated by the idea that I should know how the student is doing without having read any of the student’s writing. It’s a compliment, after all, to be considered a seer, to have the existential capacity to know how a student is doing on an absolute level. Pick a number: seer, priest, empath, monk, alien, god. Not even Apollo had the ability to feel how someone was doing. Apollo had to ask or observe. In terms of the pantheon of mythological figures, these students seem to think I’m the Holy Ghost.

It begs questions. Why? How? Is this the result of an education system that worries about how everyone is feeling? Is there a gap between how a student is actually feeling and how a teacher perceives the student’s emotional state? I don’t grade emotions, of course, but perhaps I should. I should imagine them and grade them.

Or perhaps I should imagine the paper I would really like the student to have written, award it exactly the grade I wish he could earn, and then announce to the world that our imaginations have become one, at least from my point of view. This is a path to perfection. Oneness with the teacher. It’s a concept of divinity, easy to consider real.

Shouldn’t this at least partially explain how this student got the idea in the first place? I mean, someone out there must have told him that, yes, you’re doing fine. I have not read a single thing you’ve written all semester—a piece of writing from you doesn’t even exist—but you’re doing fine.

There. I said it. You’re fine and so am I. You and I both are fine. And that’s the goal, isn’t it? Feeling fine. It’s easy. Just ask someone to determine your emotions for you. It’s automatic.

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