Who wants an HD?

Written by Graham Stanton, Principal of Youthworks College

This past week I’ve had about 30 theology essays to mark. At around half an hour per essay that’s a solid 15 hours of marking. I, however, have little to complain about; other colleagues have far more marking to do than I have.

I heard of an academic who said they would gladly teach for free, but they have to get paid a lot of money to mark assignments! It’s not a job that many teachers relish.

It can be hard work to try to interpret something that sounds a lot like a first draft that has been hurriedly passed through a spell-check program before being hastily submitted at the last moment without any further proof-reading. I was given a poem some years back, it starts: ‘Eye halve a spelling chequer, it came on my pea see. It plane lee marks four my revue miss steaks aye can knot sea. Eye ran this poem threw it, your sure reel glad two no. Its vary polished in it’s weigh. My checker tolled me sew.’ No spelling mistakes there! But not a lot of clarity either.

Then there are moments that make me laugh out loud – like the student who mistakenly said that the 16th century Dutch theologian Jacob Arminius was from ‘the Neverlands’. It left me imagining Peter Pan, Tinkerbell and the lost boys sitting around listening to a discussion election and prevenient grace!

Then there are times when I read something and sit back in amazement thinking, ‘I wish I’d written that!’ And I thank God for the privilege of being involved in helping new leaders refine and clarify their thinking.

While marking I updated my facebook status (during a brief mental break between essays!) saying how much I appreciate reading a good essay with the added comment, ‘awarding high distinctions makes essay markers smile’. One student responded with, “if awarding HDs makes you smile then feel free to award me an HD and save yourself the time it would have taken you to read it!”

Of course that would be easier on all of us – I copy and paste the comment, ‘brilliant work, couldn’t have done a better job myself. HD’ and all the students go home happy!

But it reminds me of the shameful and wicked priests that Jeremiah rebuked: "They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace" (Jeremiah 6:14).

And really, that’s what makes marking so hard and so time consuming. As teachers we love our students too much to just say ‘HD, HD,’ when the work doesn’t deserve an HD. And because we’re in the business of forming people for service among the church of the living God, our love for God and his church demands more than just giving everyone a smiley face stamp so we can all feel better.

Marking is hard work. That is, if we love our students and take our responsibility to lead and guide our students seriously, marking should be hard work. It will be time consuming and mentally draining. I sit down to mark and pray for stamina, for clear understanding, for consistency in evaluation, and care in providing feedback. I want to make sure that I can highlight everything the student has done well, point out those areas that need some more work, and give some direction for how they can do a better job in the future. At this end of the year there’s a lot more marking to be done. Would you pray for all our teaching team to carry this responsibility well?

And as the marked essays go back to students, please pray with us that they would receive the feedback well. And pray that because of their love for God and his people, that they would commit themselves to developing their skills in understanding and communication as much as they can. For the glory of Jesus and the extension of his Kingdom. 

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