I hate grading – but still

I have always hated grading. It has always felt like a total misunderstanding of what teachers are there for. We are not here to grade, we are here to teach. In an ideal world, there would be no grading at all. Now, we are not in an ideal world, and grading is supposed to be a mean of reaching a better recognition of competences and efforts, allowing people to eventually get a job that corresponds to what they have learned.

In times of COVID-19, grading is becoming a nightmare.

When confinement started, we still had 4 weeks left in what is the last term of the academic year here, plus the exam weeks. The students immediately asked for opportunities to be graded in these final weeks: they don’t want to lose a year, and we still had oral presentations and/or graded exercices planned in these 4 weeks.

Finding ways of grading in a equitable manner now is not easy when you know how unequal access to the internet is among our students. Some don’t have much more than their cell phone, and we have to figure out a way to take this into consideration. Over the past week, I have read colleagues discussing the least bad way to weigh all aspects in and still allow the students to finish their academic year not empty-handed. Yesterday morning, there suddenly came news that all grading had to stop immediately, that there is no way to say if and how students are going to be graded for this term. 

I thought this problem would only concern my students in France, but as time passes, I am more and more worried that this might affect my students who are doing an Erasmus year in a way that is at least as fatal. See, we are a small language department, and all our 3rd year students are abroad in Germany as Erasmus students. We don’t even have the exams necessary for anyone to be able to validate a 3rd B.A. year in my discipline at my university. And the situation in Germany worries me. While we in France “only” have 4 weeks and exams to manage, Germany has the whole of the second term to come. Granted, they have more time to get ready for it, both technically and administratively, since it won’t start for another month. But it is clear at this point that they will be impacted for a longer time within term. And this is only the coordination between two countries I am talking about. I have no idea how the complex system of Erasmus+ is going to be able to deal with a situation where mobility is massively impacted. I keep hoping that coordination within Higher Education at a European level is happening right now and that we, the Erasmus coordinators, will be able to implement a reasonable solution with our students in the coming weeks. 

And so day after day time takes new dimensions. While I still haven’t had time to prepare my virtual classes for next week (which I will do as soon as I have finished writing this blog post: today is Saturday and I am taking a break from homeschooling) and worry for the end of my Erasmus students’ term in July, there is much that is being postponed to the fall. We plan the fall as if we would be able to catch up on everything then, as if we were in a time of emptiness right now. While there keep being input from everywhere about “what to do in confinement time” as if everyone was bored and needed to be entertained, I don’t feel like I have reached the point – at all – where idleness kicks in. Why is it that I keep working on my classes at week-ends while we are supposedly “at home doing nothing” the whole week? 

In these times where we try to care for our loved ones, be they family, friends or students, I wouldn’t want to be thinking about grading like I do. But it seems, at this point, that grading is caring… still, I am glad to be able to spend this week-end preparing my virtual classes. Because, hey, actually: teaching is caring. 

This blogpost is dedicated to all my 2nd and 3rd years, who are impacted in their mobility plans: I promise I won’t let the guard down and will look out for you!

The 2020 Etudes Européennes 2nd year Students from Le Mans and Paderborn, on March 11th 2020 in Le Mans. Find out more about the curriculum here (in French)

Anne Baillot

I am a Professor of German Studies at Le Mans Université. My areas of research include German literature, Digital Humanities, textual scholarship and intellectual history.

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