One of my former professors said in my presence more than once, a bit tongue in cheek, "I would teach for free, but they have to pay me to do the grading."
His sentiment expresses the feelings of many a teacher that I have heard. Being in the classroom forming minds through teaching can be so rewarding and joy-inducing. But trudging through the drudgery of grading can quickly dim the enthusiasm for the work.
I was thinking of this prevalent attitude as I am in the midst of grading numerous assignments, sermons, papers, tests, and projects as we are at the end of the fall quarter at Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary. With many other projects I need to get to in my work, it is easy in hitting a grading cycle to go into the "woe is me" mode as a teacher. Honesty demands that I admit that I do struggle with entering into that mindset at times. Yet there is a secret to joyful grading that I know helps me at least. What is it?
Simply seeing grading as serving Christ and my students.
For when I get my mind off the mountain of mundanity* before me, and instead see the face of each student's paper or test I pick up, and then think of personally serving him or her, the task becomes much lighter. When a student asks for help in or outside of class, a caring teacher eagerly agrees to use that opportunity to coach the student along in the mastery of the subject. Likewise, grading done well, with a careful eye to the student's work and appropriate comments regarding it, is a significant part of a student grasping the concepts the teacher has conveyed in the classroom.
In addition, the Christian teacher needs to keep before one's self that every red mark, every written comment, every grade assigned is just one small act of service to the Lord. All the teacher does, from the greater joys of classroom interactions to the lesser ones of marking a paper, is to be done to the glory of Christ. "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ" (Col. 3:23-24).
She will not believe me, but my wife helps me see this truth in an ongoing way. She is a quiet woman who finds her joy in serving in our home. The careful way she cares for her family in keeping our home, doing our laundry (which itself can quickly become a mountain of mundanity), cooking and cleaning in the kitchen, hosting others, and the myriad of other ways she loves us provides me with a daily, beautiful picture of servanthood. She reminds me of how Christ portrays the true life of a servant in Luke 17:7-10.
Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’
So the secret to joyful grading is just that truth. Knowing you are an unworthy servant who, granted the great privilege of serving the Lord who first served us, is now doing what has become your God-given duty.
And now, having enjoyed this little writing break, back to the work at hand. May the Lord help me, as the Scriptures say, "make this mountain (of grading) low!"
*Yes, that is a word, the noun form of mundane. See what you learn while grading!