Adjuncts! Local Non-Mom Cut Her Grading WAY Down With This Weird Old Trick

by Rebecca Schuman

If your school is on early semesters (as most are–Godspeed, quarter-system friends, and read this again in a month and a half!), that means you are smack in the middle of Grading Thunderdome.

Last Grading Thunderdome, I was so frazzled I published this, which made me Enemy #1 of the Entire Discipline of Composition and Rhetoric, Always and Forever. One of these days I’m going to apologize about that, if only certain individuals from comp/rhet would stop being assholes to me for five seconds and reminding me that, thanks to them, when I see the words “comp/rhet” I IMMEDIATELY think “asshole,” and–you know what, forget those assholes, I regret nothing!!!!! No, seriously, one of these days I will write about how my lesson has been learned (I’m lying; “one of these days” is tomorrow, in conjunction with a new article I’ve got coming out).

AT ANY RATE. Grading Thunderdome can cause existential meltdowns in Slate, snapping at family members, excessive caffeine and alcohol consumption at the same time (which makes for some unforgettable marginal comments), and general ennui. But with THIS ONE WEIRD OLD TRICK, that I will sell you for exactly zero dollars, it doesn’t have to.

Adjuncts: How much do you get paid? Probably not very much. If you’ve ever done the math, you’ve figured out that during grading weeks, you’re actually paying the school $15/hour for the privilege to teach there.

This year, I decided that I was going to enact a one-person grading revolution. This is what I did, for every class, every semester, and nobody complained, and I didn’t get fired (although I am taking the next year off from teaching, for unrelated reasons). If you, too, would like to cut tens of hours off your grading, but still help the students who actually want your help, do this! Note: this only works if you have some measure of grading autonomy and do not have to surrender copies of marked-up essays to your Higher Power, which I have had to do in the past, so I know it’s possible. 

1. Dude-ric, use a rubric. Make your own. They can be harsh, programatic, fun, clever, dull–anything you want, as long as they are as detailed as possible about the kind of essay that you actually want. Here are some of the rubrics I used this year (and yes, by the time I got to the final essay, I WAS a little punchy, thank you very much):

This was for our first essay, which was a “lens” assignment where they chose one non-literary text or thing with which to “view” a literary text:


This was for their second essay, which was a write-up of a day where they (with a partner) taught the class for 45 minutes:


And this is the project they just finished, which I am grading RIGHT NOW (hence the punchiness):


2. Check off the rubric boxes, and make additional one-line comments if your rubric software (or worksheet, if you insist on using paper) allows.

3. Let the rubric choose a letter or number for you, and “nudge” up or down if the student was on the cusp between categories; make this note when you pass the paper back.

4. DO NOT MAKE A SINGLE LINE COMMENT on the paper yet. Pass it back with a two-line summary about the paper in general, and then this note: “I would be delighted to give this paper an extensive line-by-line reading in my office hours, or by appointment!” The students who want this will come to you. For me, it’s between one and ten students per paper, out of 35-60 total.

This method is unassailable, because any student who wishes to have line comments gets them–they just have to make a slight time commitment about it, too, which every Dean would think is fair. Any student who just wants to look at the letter and some general comments gets to do that, but the rubric makes sure that they know where their main issues lie. If a student’s paper is so problematic–like D quality–that you can’t use this method in good conscience, simply withhold a grade and replace it with a “See Me” and insist they get the f2f line-reading.

The Academic Martyr Squad is going to hate this method, because without their crowns of grading thorns, their red-pen stigmata, they feel empty and unnecessary, but I assure you that every student who actually wants comments gets them–and they self-select!–so there is no job-flouting involved here.

So, my only question to you now is: WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO with all those newly-won hours of time I just saved you? Oh, yeah, that’s right, commute between your adjunct jobs. #HaHaHaSob