Grading Their Final Papers–and the Semester Ends!

My students are now done with me. They handed in their final papers today, both classes–Literature and Contemporary Issues, and a Nonfiction Writing Workshop–and now can go on their merry way to sweat over other essays and papers and exams, oh my…

But, I’m done. Oh yes, I have to grade the papers, and that’s a big job. I don’t know any professor who likes this part of the occupation. If you’re doing it correctly, it burns up a lot of brain cells. But, we should do it correctly, to show respect to the work that the student has done.

I have to prep myself to grade my stack. Not just to “get into the groove” of grading, but because my students write essays that they give a damn about.

Because that’s the assignment I’ve given them. In Contemporary Issues, I ask them to write about something that the class itself made them think about. We read James Baldwin, Toni Morrison and Margaret Atwood, so, they had plenty to consider: racism, religion, slavery, infanticide, misogyny, LGBTQ, politics, oppressive regimes, motherhood, state-sanctioned rape (the latter is a theme in both The Handmaid’s Tale and Beloved).

They are personal essays. And, as tired as they are, the students get into it. Because, the words we write for ourselves are always a hell of a lot more interesting than the words we write for others.

This means that I read the lives of twenty-three students. In the Nonfiction Workshop, they’ve written their memoirs. These are intense. What they put on paper reminds me that human suffering begins so early in our lives, and, for some of us, from the moment we were born.

Since they’ve written so intensely, I spend a lot of time on each essay, and write at least a half page of a response back to them. They deserve that.

After I finish the essays, my summer will begin. I’m not writing a novel, so now, my mornings will be for myself and that two-foot-tall stack of books on my table. I’m reading about my birth barrio, the Mission District of San Francisco. I can’t wait to delve into those books, on the history of my hometown.

I’m hungry for reading. I make sure to get some pages in every day, even during the semester’s busiest times, usually an hour before supper. But now, oh! To bathe in summer reading, to let others’ fine words crash upon my shores–there’s no other joy like it.


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