Monday, July 30, 2012

50% Increase in Grading Misery

I've written before about being a grader for the upcoming fall semester. The semester hasn't even started yet, but the misery is already deepening.

The class was originally slated to have an enrollment of 80. Since the proffie, with his rep for being "easy," is quite popular, the class filled up at the beginning of the registration period. About 40 additional students signed up on the wait-list.

I just visited the university's course info website to check the schedule of another course that I'm taking, and found out that the powers-that-be have increased the size of the course I'm grading for to 120. All of the wait-listed students have been allowed to enroll. Now, instead of grading papers for 80 students, I'm apparently going to grade for 120. No big deal, just a 50% increase in my workload.

To quote Beaker Ben: "I don't like students. Why would I want more of them in my class?" Oh, right, because it isn't *my* class, it isn't my decision. I'm just the one doing the lion's share of the work.

I wonder if this means I'm going to receive a corresponding 50% increase in my meager stipend? Hahaha, I crack myself up.


  1. Yep. Another reason to get out now.

  2. Just curious if this is going to make you rethink your position on catching plagiarism. I would not blame you if it did. While I do check for plagiarism, I am a fully tenured prof who makes my own decisions about overloads. And this prof with the reputation for being easy, he won't back you up. So you'll go through all the trouble, cause issues for yourself in terms of the negative interactions this will cause, and it will all be for nothing. They'll end up thinking you are just a jerk, and the higher ups in education truly don't care about plagiarism. I am so sorry you have to deal with stuff like this!

  3. The larger my courses get, the less I check for plagiarism. But marginalia84, this is criminal. I gather that graders are not unionized at your university? At mine, where they are, we get nailed if we work graders harder than we work ourselves (i.e., we must split the grading evenly between ourselves and graders, so you can bet we don't overenroll or let anyone else change our enrollments).

  4. Even if you have no union, marginalia, do you have some kind of contract? This seems like too blatant a bait-and-switch on your work load not to have some sort of contractual recourse to either a) refuse additional grading beyond the original enrolment, or b) get a commensurate pay raise for the additional students you are compelled to take on.

    Of course, I work for a university where most of the proffies work without an up-to-date contract on file, so perhaps even this is too much to ask.

  5. That's bullshit, marginalia84--you have my sympathies. Is there any way you can talk to the grad director of your program? Mine would hit the roof if he got a whiff of a grad student being exploited like this. Even if you don't have a union, you still have a contract, I'm assuming. A standard grad appointment is 20 hours a week, and this sounds like way more than 20 hours. If they're going to bring on 40 more students, they need to bring on another TA as well.

  6. Thanks for the sympathies, all. I *do* have a contract, and it's for 20 hours per week. I'm pretty sure that I could only do the most cursory form of grading imaginable if I have to grade for 120 students (given that the assignments are usually in the form of 5-page essays, and there are around 4 per semester). I highly doubt there would be time to do any plagiarism check-ups or follow-through if I did discover blatant cases of plagiarism.

    I'm planning to write to our department's director of graduate studies and ask if another grader has been hired. In my prior interactions with her, she's shown herself to be a reasonable and fair person. So I'm really hoping that she'll tell me that another grader has been hired, or the prof is splitting the grading with me, or something to that effect. If she tells me that I really am expected to grade for 120 students, I'm not sure what my next step will be.

    And no, sadly, TAs and graders are not unionized at our school. Le sigh...

    1. This was exactly what I was going to suggest doing. If need be, you may have to go up the food chain within the graduate program to a sub-Dean or Dean (or, since, your DGS is supportive, perhaps she'll do it with/for you). They really should hire another grader, since a TA-ship is really supposed to be an apprenticeship -- part of your education -- not just a means of giving you a modest income (and, of course, providing cheap labor to the university). If it starts interfering with your graduate studies (which it will if you have to keep up with 120 students*), then it's counterproductive. Your DGS probably doesn't need to be told that, but, if the higher-up admins are less supportive, you might invoke concern about your "time to degree" -- that's one of the stats that various foundations, rating/accrediting bodies, etc., etc., like to investigate and use to rank grad departments. Of course the stats are fudged (as I know from the fact that my own 15-year time to degree was never included in my grad department's stats), but they can only be fudged so far. . .

      *Assuming you're supposed to offer some written feedback in addition to a grade, then 20 minutes is probably a reasonable target for grading/commenting on a 5-page paper, and it would be perfectly reasonable to allow a grad student working on the class for the first time 30 minutes per paper. 15 minutes is probably the minimum you could spend and still provide anything resembling thoughtful, individualized feedback. So, with 80 students, each set of papers would take an absolute minimum of 20 hours, and probably closer to 27. And you also need to allow time for attending lectures, reading or re-reading assigned texts, and any other duties (midterms? finals? are you responsible for answering student emails? holding office hours?) The work will not be spread evenly over the semester (that's a reality of academic life), but it should come somewhere close to the total number of hours for which you're contracted. I suggest keeping a log. If they won't pay you for the extra hours, maybe you can bargain for summer funding or something like that (assuming such an animal still exists).

      Also, if you're really stuck with the 120 students, create a rubric that will work for all the assignments (yes, that's another time investment, but worth it), simply rate each paper in a manageable number of categories (say 3-5), add a quick list of major strengths and weaknesses at the bottom if you have time (but don't if you don't), and tell students to come see you in office hours if they want more detailed feedback. The main trick when you have too many students is trying to figure out who the 10-25% who will actually read any feedback beyond the grade are, and spending your feedback time on them.

  7. You know, I habitually was the TA for 120 students a term when I was in grad school. That's 4 sections of 30 (2 sections for each of 2 different courses, to be precise). Every term, it was leading weekly break-out sessions, attending the prof's lecture sessions, and grading 3 3-page papers (which often ballooned to 6 pages).

    It was a LOT of freaking work. But it was a full TAship, with stipend plus benefits/insurance plus tuition remission. Also, one of my fellow TAs was just doing it for cash, no perks/benefits/tuition. The whole fucking system is about exploitation, isn't it?


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