My fifth year of teaching


in Daily updates, Rants, Teaching

The capricious forces directing undergraduate teaching in political science have set me up for an extremely difficult term.

First, I was assigned to teach an hour’s $6 shuttle drive away, at the Missisauga campus. Second, my “tutorials” are starting with 30 students each. With only five tutorials in the entire course, this raises the question of how students can be meaningfully graded on participation.

Most seriously, they allocated all of my 210 teaching hours for the year to just this term. Since my fellow TAs are only doing half their hours this term, my huge surplus of hours must be dedicated to grading. This means I will be spending huge blocks of time grading the midterm and the essay — so much that it seems impossible within the standard turnaround time for exams and assignments. As a further vexation, all the grading must be done through tedious and fiddly online systems, rather than quickly and intuitively on paper copies.

At the same time, I am working hard with my committee to get my PhD project formally approved by the department, and to get research ethics approval. Judo aside (which ought to help remain sanity), this will be a term where further extras are essentially inpermissible.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Milan September 22, 2016 at 2:33 pm
Sarah October 1, 2016 at 12:49 pm

Grading huge volumes of papers as efficiently as possible is one of an academic’s essential skills. I remember being a grad student instructed to grade for a professor who told me I should be able to grade each 8 page paper in around 15 mins, including typing a paragraph of comments. In reality, his assignments took me a solid 30-40 mins each to grade. At the time I thought the workload he expected of my was totally unrealistic and exploitative.

Now I actually do grade papers as fast as he said I should, and I now suspect that he was expecting me to grade as efficiently as he graded. Greater experience has made me much, much faster at reading the papers, ranking them, and prioritizing what feedback to give. When I’m grading online I compile a document of common comments and copy and paste them in for each paper (with modifications as needed). I categorize the comments as relating to 1) writing style, 2) structure of argument, 3) substantive content, or 4) the bibliography and referencing. For most papers I add at least one comment in each of those four categories. They might say things like “There are a few typos, so remember to proof-read your paper before submission” (style), “It was great that you provided a clear thesis statement in the introduction” (structure), “Your definition of sovereignty seems to change during the paper, so try to define the key concepts clearly and use them consistently throughout,” (content) or “Remember to provide a Bibliography listing all your sources” (referencing). This copy-and-paste tactic for comments made on many papers is common amongst academics who grade online, and some say they find it faster than grading hard copies.

So, while the grading you have ahead is definitely time-consuming and will be tough, the plus-sides are that: 1) it gets much faster with practice, which you will benefit hugely from if you later become an academic; 2) there are time-saving tactics people develop to handle it (I’m sure people at Toronto will have tactics for your online system); and 3) think of all the time you will have available for research in the spring!

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