Tuesday, 10 May 2011


I've been late with the blog the last couple of days, and my excuse is I've been staying up late and getting up early to get through my marking - it's end of semester at the American university where I've been teaching two classes this year. Marking is my least favourite part of teaching, especially when connected with giving grades.

I read through carefully, making comments and corrections. I'm careful because you just know that the student is going to read every comment, trying to work out why they got this grade or that grade, and if they don't like their grade, they'll be querying what you scribbled on the side of their submission. And then you have to justify your remarks - tactfully, of course. Many years ago I had a student who was furious with his low mark and I longed to say 'You're simply not a good writer, that's why the mark is low'. (But didn't.)

I don't like feeling in judgement over another person's writing, to say this piece is better than that piece. It's only my opinion, after all. I may have missed some crucial element. It's not like maths, where the answer is either right or wrong. It's subjective, not objective. Alternatively, perhaps one student has played safe by submitting work that has already been workshopped, whereas another has aimed high and risked trying out something new but perhaps not been entirely successful. Who deserves the better mark? Do you include scope and ambition when considering marks? Is a brave attempt more worthy than playing safe?

Tricky decisions that I'm not keen on making. And all over the country there will be other writers with the same dilemma as the number of university creative writing courses proliferate. Will it make any difference to the quality of the writers? If anything, I worry that we will get a homogenised product, writing that earns high marks in writing class, writing that we are taught to believe is 'good', writing that doesn't take risks.

I'm a writer, not a judge, but judge I must. So that's what I've been doing. But I'm glad that this part of teaching is nearly over for another year.


Chrissa Brown @ A Tad Bit Creative said...

Hi Sarah, as a teacher I can totally relate to your intense dislike of marking! And I agree, marking creative writing can be much trickier than other subjects. In writing, a person can be following all the right formulas but unless you really feel what they're portraying in their writing, it's hard to rate it highly... All the best!

Sarah Duncan said...

Sigh - marking is so difficult...

Debs Carr said...

I don't envy you one bit. It must be so much easier marking Maths or something where what's written on the paper is either right or wrong.