(Clearly I’m a big old grouch lately. It’s February. And have I mentioned snow?) But this is not a let-me-count-the-ways sort of post. Seriously: what’s so awful about it? I read a batch of papers. I underline problems with grammar, mechanics, word choice, in the interest of making students figure out what the problems are (and in the hope that they’ll come to office hours or ask questions in class if they don’t know how to use a semi-colon—but I’m not going to work as their editor). I write comments about thesis statement, topic sentences, and so on, and work on the computer so I can cut and paste when multiple people need the same comment. This doesn’t sound so hard. It lets me check on what my students have understood about the text, how coherently they can express their thoughts, and whether they grasp the rudiments of a literary argument.
The current batch of papers is not appalling. My students are tolerably coherent, they all understand the text, and nearly all come within shouting distance of an argument. The most common problem is wordiness; many of them write otherwise perfectly correctly, but can’t resist creating sentences that repeat elements from earlier sentences. The repeated elements are probably supposed to function as transitions. Transitions are necessary to help your reader understand what you are saying. Your reader should understand what you are saying because otherwise the reader won’t be able to follow the argument. The argument in a two-page paper shouldn’t be so easily lost. It’s a bad thing to easily lose your reader.
And at that point I start muttering, “Don’t wait till we get home, shoot me now,” and wander off to surf the blogosphere. You all aren’t posting often enough. I have been reduced to writing in my journal, playing with the cats, and doing laundry as avoidance rituals. If I can’t convince my students to write more concisely before the next paper is due, I may wind up with all my assignments written for next year, and a very clean house—unless I can also convince my favorite bloggers to post long, substantive posts several times a day when the next paper comes due.
Why don’t I just go work on a conference paper in between student efforts? Believe me, I’ve thought about it. (A) I would vastly, vastly rather work on my next conference paper, and so I won’t let myself do it, because I have this perverted work ethic that says I have to finish the grading first, even though I do all sorts of other things while I’m gathering the strength to return to the repetitive sentences; and (b) I am very easily influenced by others’ style. When I’m on a Jane Austen binge, you can tell; when I’ve been reading a lot of Latin prose, my English becomes absurdly convoluted as I try to shape sentences in ways that work fine in a highly inflected language. I have to clear out the repetition, somehow, before getting back to my own writing.
At any rate, one batch is done. Another awaits, but has no hope for attention before Thursday. And it suddenly occurs to me that I have not yet read a writing-group submission that is to be discussed tomorrow. Alas and alack. And I have to drop off my car before work, and then spend any free time available before noon reading more of my colleagues’ student evaluations (they really know their stuff, my colleagues! or so I am told by their students). So . . . well, the most important stuff will get done. Sleep and my brakes matter more to me than some of the other items. Don’t wait till we get home . . . .