The Time it Takes to Teach

Christine Whelan | Posted on 05/19/10

In today's Boston Globe, Kara Miller, who teaches English at Babson College writes that

correcting students' papers is tremendously time consuming. I constantly do battle with myself to spend less than 20 minutes on a paper. At meetings, instructors are often urged not to exceed 15 minutes, but I frequently end up spending double that. This can be a genuinely frustrating experience: 50 papers stacked on the coffee table, 10 in the finished pile, and an entire afternoon gone.

But I can't help it; there's so much to correct. Subjects don't agree with verbs. "Its'' and "it's'' are used interchangeably. "They are'' is confused with "their.'' And facts too often function as topic sentences. Many of the students whose work I correct are smart, motivated, and quick to incorporate suggestions. But they have either forgotten the rules of writing, or they never learned them in the first place.

Kara, I feel your pain. In every sociology class I teach, I do a lecture on how to write a paper-what a thesis statement is, the important role of a topic sentence, and, oh, right, why clicking spell-check once in a while wouldn't hurt either. Yet still, I get papers back that, as you say, are frequently riddled with both grammatical and stylistic mistakes.

Which leads to a serious question: why do so many students come to college without a command of fundamentals?

To some degree, it's a mathematical problem. If it takes me all weekend to correct 40 papers, how can a high school English teacher begin to tackle 120 papers (four sections, 30 students per section) in a detail-oriented way?

In my case, it was my parents who taught me the craft of writing. My mother would assign me short essays every day during the summers, and my father would painstakingly correct the grammar and punctuation. My mother taught me how to craft an argument, and my father taught me how to structure and execute the idea.

Most parents can't do that. Most teachers don't have time. So where does that leave our kids?

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