Lenten journal: Making the grade

I’ve got two kinds of grades on my mind tonight. Truth is I don’t really like either kind.

One kind of grade is the letter or number you put on students’ work to tell them how they did on an assignment or test. Poet William Stafford taught long and well enough he got to the point where he didn’t give grades anymore; he wouldn’t even say if he thought a poem was good or bad. He would just look at it with the student, and remark about what he found interesting. By default, then, something he did not remark on was … unremarkable. And for the student to decide what to do with.

With my approval addiction, I would have gone crazy in a Stafford workshop, but maybe crazy in a good way.

Anyway, I just spent the last two days grading — and then tweaking the grades on — a set of papers. Having never been trained in any kind of pedagogy or even practicalities of this kind of work, I would be embarrassed to tell you how long it took me to figure out I should establish a grading rubric of what I was looking for, and then look for it, and grade accordingly. I did finally figure out that was a good idea, and work out a method. It helps a lot. Grading is still subjective; but at least I am connecting the evaluation to goals that are worth achieving … in this case, learning to understand one’s place in the world, how it is different from others’, how power can attach to those differences, bringing benefits to some and harm to others.

I just had a thought that connects with the second kind of grade. So let me go there …

Yeah, that. Uphill grade.

This is the other kind of grade that makes me crazy: the one that says “You are running not only forward but up.”

(What’s really funny about this graphic, which Google Images turned up when Wylio wouldn’t, is that it features a “no excuses” symbol. Why is that funny?

Because my mantra this year is … no excuses.)

So, I was out for another little run, today, and I took the longer, hillier route, forgetting that that might not be a good idea on a 70 degree afternoon when I have been running in 30 and 40 degree mornings. Well. It was a good training experience. I got up the grades.

And now I’m thinking about the students’ papers again; some of them got further up the grade than the others … because they worked harder, because they took the assignment more seriously, because they wanted to, because they could. I love it when they work hard, because I am working hard. Teaching religious studies is not my favorite thing. If I’m going to be teaching (as opposed to say, sitting with you and talking about life and love and kayaks and kids), let me at least be learning with you about stuff that matters, like all the ways that God loves us. Better yet, let me have a job where there’s praying and preaching and teaching and sitting with you and talking about … you know. Stuff that matters.

The academy feels like a wilderness, most of the time. It’s uphill all the way. But, in situations like these, it’s best to refer to rule #1 for 2012: No Excuses.

That’s what led me to take this brief stint on. It’s also what is leading me in a completely different direction this summer: I’ve agreed at long last to take a unit of CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education). It’s basically training for chaplains. That’s a whole other story. I’ll tell it another night.

Tonight, at the end of a day of working on Other People’s Projects, I need to take a moment to remember what I know … a few of the things I’ve learned so far. Let’s hope this will be spiritual WD-40 to loosen up my soul, to let the needle in the compass of my heart swing ’round to true north again.

Hey, I know. I’ll remember what I know about running uphill.

Take shorter steps. Run lightly. Pull with hands and arms. Focus on the road just ahead, not the crest. Keep the same breathing rhythm.

And

then

enjoy

the

downhill …

It’s grace all the way down.

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