End of the School Year

I can’t seem to settle on a book to read lately, and I think I know why.

Maybe it’s the end-of-the-school-year blues. I told another teacher the other day that where seniors get “senioritis,” teachers get “Mayitis.” I have stacks of papers to grade and end-of-the-year paperwork, and I’m out of gas. Usually when I’m in the thick of grading papers, I have to write a lot and read a lot too, in order to allow myself to remember what it’s like to be able to enjoy reading and writing, without having to make all the red marks that will justify my numerical judgment.

I have been jumping around among The Bishop’s Daughter, Honor Moore’s memoir about her father, the Episcopal bishop Paul Moore; From the Briarpatch File, a collection of critical works and literary essays by Arthur Murray; a series of articles about new psychedelic bands in the next-to-latest issue of Relix magazine; Elegy for the Southern Drawl, a book of poems by Rodney Jones; and Radical Equations, activist-teacher Bob Moses’ book about his Civil Rights experience with SNCC and his subsequent Algebra Project. The last book I actually finished, not too long ago, was Milan Kundera’s novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, which I didn’t really like because it was too dark. I just wasn’t in the mood, I guess. It was well-written though, and keenly psychological, just too dark for reading in the springtime. It’s a wintertime book.

Anybody I have ever talked to who loves teaching writing or English also hates the year-end stack of papers to grade. I don’t hate the individual papers and I don’t hate grading them, but I do hate the brutality of it. Stacks of student essays are brutal. Their collective dead weight is not counterbalanced by the good, lively ones in the pile. The summative pall says: I did what you said, so now give me my good grade. Grading writing has nothing to do with putting high grades on good writing and low grades on bad writing, at least not on the high school level. It is a systematized, rubric-driven exercise in pity; it is hard to give a bad student essay a low grade for the same reason it is hard to spank a puppy for peeing the rug. All too often they both know they’ve done something bad but just don’t know how to do better. But we still want them to.

School is out in about two weeks, and come hell or high water, I’ll have my grades in on time. I always do. May 27th, brothers and sisters!


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