In the article, “Scoring Rubrics and the Material Conditions of Our Relations with Students,” which appears in the newest issue of NCATE’s Teaching English in the Two-Year College, David Martins discusses various issues surrounding the use of grading rubrics when teaching freshman composition. His article is interesting and I highly recommend it, but he does make one rhetorical move that never fails to get my hackles up.
At an early point in his essay, Martins, in an attempt to impress upon the reader the amount of time that a typical fycomp teacher spends grading papers, quotes Nancy Sommers:
More than twenty-five years ago, Nancy Sommers presented the workload problem of responding to student writing in terms of hours: “Most teachers estimate that it takes them at least 20 to 40 minutes to comment on an individual student paper, and those 20 to 40 minutes times 20 students per class, times 8 papers, more or less, during the course of the semester add up to an enormous amount of time.” (148). (Martins 125)
This is a mantra that I have heard a number of fycomp teachers repeat ad nauseam in an attempt to impress upon others the hopelessness of their own plight. My thought on this subject is as follows: I get it. Yes. Teaching first year composition is hard work. It’s supposed to be. Most jobs entail hard work.
As much as I hate to say the phrase, lets do the math.
If I’m teaching four Comp II classes and I make a paper due from all four classes, I’m going to have about a hundred papers to grade. If each paper takes between 20 and 40 minutes (lets say an average of 1/2 hour), that’s 3000 minutes, that’s 50 hours. This is the same amount of time that the average auto mechanic spends at work every week.
My point being that if you were to assign a paper every week in all four classes, you would be putting in about the same amount of hours that I did when I worked at an auto-repair shop. David Martins’ article is very good and does not focus on a “woe is me” attitude. However I have had conversations with many fycomp teachers who do.
I understand that the amount of time and effort a teacher spends goes well beyond time spend grading, and I understand that adjunct teachers don’t necessarily get paid what they need to survive. There are, in fact, many things worth complaining about in the area of fycomp, but the reality that we actually have to spend time “working” should not be one of them.