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Friday, December 6, 2013

Dubious Moments in Management

This semester has featured some calendrical oddities: In addition to beginning on a Friday--which is actually typical--this semester offers less than two weeks of classes between Thanksgiving and the end of the semester.  What this means for me and other teachers in my department is that final exams--which are all administered department-wide on the same day--have to be graded in a compressed timeframe.

We grade the exams collectively: One teacher reads an exam (not knowing who has written it--the students' names are covered), grades it, and then it is passed along to another teacher--who doesn't know what the first teacher has given it--to grade.  Usually, we have at least a week to do all this, but this semester, we have only about three days.  So, in the spirit of efficiency, I pulled department-chair rank and called in all the teachers to come together today for a sort of grading party.  We would all bring our exams--having done the first readings--and then we would just stay and read until all the second reads were done.  To make the offer palatable, I suggested people bring snacks.  Which they did.

We all got together, got our snacks, and proceeded to sit down and start to read.  Now, by general consensus, I am the fastest reader of these tests.  I pride myself on speed.  And, indeed, I train my students to accommodate the speedy reader: I tell them that these exams are graded holistically and that, when reading them, I do not want to think!  I should be able to read an exam quickly, smoothly, without having to pause or linger over anything.  Because, I explain, while making a reader think is sometimes the mark of a great piece of writing, it is more often--at least at this level--a result of opaque prose.  The less a piece of writing makes me think, the more likely it is to receive a passing grade.  So anyway, I can usually blast through these exams at a rate of 10-12 an hour.  Today, however, I got through about eight--in two hours!

The problem, of course, is that when you get a bunch of teachers together at the end of the semester, and set them a task of reading dozens of essays--or, more accurately, essentially the SAME essay dozens of times--they tend to get a bit slap-happy.  Throw in Nutter Butter cookies and Coca-Cola, and productivity is not going to be high.  And it seemed like such a good idea at the time!

Well, anyway, I'm home now.  And, if you'll excuse me. . . I have a bunch of essays to read.

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