Let me preface this by saying that I love being a teacher. You get to prattle on about something you actually enjoy, for hours, and they pay you for it. You get to come up with fiendish test questions to separate the True Disciples from the motiongoers. If you’re good, you can even be an inspiration to students who aren’t sure what they want to do in life. It’s the perfect profession for a show-off like me.
However, teaching has its dark side, and that dark side is grading. Grading is, by a wide margin, the worst part of being a teacher. Teachers often save their grading for a TA to do, if they’re lucky enough to have one. It’s soul-crushing to grade paper after paper of horrible, poorly written, poorly executed, poorly-thought-out assignments from your preferred subject. On the other hand, if the students were great at it, they wouldn’t need a teacher.
Since you always have to grade 30+ assignments, it’s difficult to give each student the attention they need. Not all students need the same amount of attention; some of them probably could have taught the class before showing up, and just need the degree. Others are not so good. Here are the kinds of students you might see.
The Golden Student
This student gets their work done perfectly but succinctly. They give off the impression that they’re capable, but either too lazy to care, or have other things to do. They just want the A. They might forget something here or there, but if they do, it’s something that’s not worth many points, something they could have included had they wanted to spend the time. The easiest student to grade.
This is the student that always goes the extra mile. From beautiful formatting, to weird tricks, to subtle allusions, this student gives off the impression that they are about more than just Getting Things Done. Like a peacock, they spread their feathers to show you just how good they are. They could teach the class, they probably could have taught the class a year ago, and some of them will probably end up teaching the class after they graduate. Weirdly, the Peacock makes more errors than the Golden Student, but these errors are of the type that only the Peacock could make.
The Ran Out Of Time
This student probably could have made it work, but there’s large chunks missing. They just ran out of time.
The Help Me Fix This
There are two types of knowledge: knowing how to do something, and knowing how to not do something. This student knows what they don’t know, but they don’t know how to do it the right way, and they will tell you. They usually include a comment like, “Hey, I can’t quite get X to work, how am I supposed to do it?” I have warm, helpful feelings towards these students. I explain to them how to do the thing, and then I give them a bad grade — but maybe not as bad as I would otherwise.
The Tooth And Nail
This student will fight for grade points as if they’ve been bitten by a rattlesnake and each point is a drop of antivenom. They will submit after the deadline, and e-mail you when the submission doesn’t go through. They will comment after the assignment is graded, about how you shouldn’t have taken so many points off, and they really knew what they were doing, honest. Sometimes they’re right — sometimes you, the grader, did make a mistake. It happens. But, more often, students will try to game the system with more effort than it would have taken to do the assignment properly. You must be firm with them.
The Time Cube
This student submits the most head-scratching work. Work that could have been written in an alien language. Work that makes you want to post it online and show the world the things you have to put up with (or just to point and laugh). Work that amazes by how it almost makes sense, but you must resist the temptation to read into it too much, because you will go mad. Does the student know what they’re doing? It’s impossible to tell. Do you know what you’re doing? Maybe the student is an eccentric genius whose work will amaze the world hundreds of years from now. Don’t think about it. Just give them a bad grade and move on.
Students can be any one of these, or a combination. Occasionally, a student morphs from one to another. There are probably some archetypes that I’m forgetting, on purpose, to save content for a future article. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have grading to do.