I know that college composition teachers are supposed to bewail the state of “kids these days” and their inability to put together an essay, but this year’s freshman comp group has been, for the most part and in all cases sometimes, quite competent. I’m confident that they’ve not become so because of my brilliant instruction or because my paper prompts write their papers for them–in fact, the second most common complaint I get on my semester-end evaluations is that my paper assignments are “too broad.” (The most common is that I grade too hard.) I think that, because these are the sorts of students willing to take on ancient philosophy rather than pop culture studies and because they’re students willing to attend an early morning class, they happen to be some of the best available to composition teachers.
Even so, having finished my revision meetings and graded about half of the last paper, I still get worn out reading all of those essays. I know it’s not the difficulty of the prose that does me in–after all, I’ve read hundreds of pages of critical theory for classes. And I know it’s not the need to read critically–after all, one should never trust all or even most of what one reads in a book of critical theory. But grading makes me tired in ways that other reading just doesn’t.
The best I can come up with is that, when I grade essays, I have to switch gears entirely every five pages or so. I deal with a new thesis, a new style, a new argumentative form, and all sorts of novelty. Getting my eyes and my editor’s faculties used to novelty that often, especially over a full work day’s grading, must be what wears me out so. After all, I’ve read critical theory far more lamebrained than any freshman’s philosophy paper, and I can cook through its stupidity by comparison.
This might seem a frivolous bit of speculation, but I do think that if we college comp teachers would realize such things, we’d be less likely to attribute our irritation to students’ ineptitude and laziness and look at the task at hand as a possible source of fatigue.
But then again, I might just have a good group this year.