That was until my second-to-last semester of graduate school.
In one of my classes, my professor returned our writing with feedback, but no evaluation. Everyone was required to revise and resubmit based on her feedback in order for the work to be graded. When I opened the document, I half-expected to read something like: “Just kidding, everyone except you has to revise and resubmit, because your paper is already amazing. You’re a great writer, and a brilliant student! Kudos! Keep doing what you’re already doing!”
I was infuriated.
I slammed my computer shut, on the verge of tears. My whole self-concept had been shaken. I was actually going to have to work to maintain the high academic standard I pressure myself to reach. To top it off, this class was in June. June, when school was nearly out, school days were insane, and all I wanted was a break.
“Why should I have to spend this time if what I already turned in was good enough to pass? I have tons of other things to do!” I found myself thinking, “Just put a grade on it and let me be done!”
I sounded just like my students.
I walked away from my paper and returned to it later after a glass of wine and a long walk to quiet the petulant middle schooler in my head. When I read the feedback, I realized that there were many places where my paper could be improved. There were things I hadn’t seen, even having revised it many times. Some of the comments were questions, prompting me to clarify or go deeper in my thinking. Other comments provided additional related things to think about, some of which I opted to include in revisions, and some I ignored.
My writing was better for the feedback, as hard as it may have been to stomach at first glance.
When I was focused on my stress and my GPA, I couldn’t see her intentions clearly. In hindsight, my professor was forcing us all to do our best work. My paper could have started as an A and ended up as an A, but the grade was not the point. There were places where it could be improved, whether they were reflected in the rubric or not. My professor had the guts to do what I want to do as a middle school educator- try to remove the focus on the grade and redirect it towards the learning.
I need to remember her strategy and this frustration I felt as I begin next year with a new group of students. They will probably dread addressing my feedback as much as I dreaded hers. I need to remember the feeling of opening that marked up document, seeing my writing bloodied with red font, and remind myself to be gentle, but honest. I need to remember how it felt to choke back overwhelmed tears in order to revisit a piece of writing that I thought was good enough when I turned it in, and provide my students with the support they need to feel victorious at the end of their revisions, not like they’re waving the white flag in submission to a tidal wave of comments.