A Theology of Grading

I pray as I embark on the arduous and least favorite task of teaching: grading. I teach 50 students each semester, and grading their long, complex advanced writing essays takes up the better part of my week.

But I’m learning to love it. I’m learning to see it as a kind of worship. I think about Jesus and how He would do it. I think about a theology of grading, and I find three words jingling like joyful bells in my mind: relationship, grace, and worship.

When I grade, I’m learning to foster my relationship with my student with every comment. I build a connection. I might comment in the margins like this: This made me think of this. I feel this as well. I understand this, too. I see your point here. This reminds me of this. . . 

When I think of a theology of grading, I think of being with a student. Writing is a conversation. My life with God works as an ongoing conversation. I think of the presence of a teacher as first, relational. I think of how God is with me, and I want to reflect that to my students in how I’m with them. God is with us. God is in it. God is interacting in the midst of failure, muck, and disaster.

Secondly, I think of grace. Grace means I’m rooting for the student. I want the student to succeed. I know I’m outside of grace when I lean towards shame, towards power-struggles, and towards expressing personal disappointment. Grace means celebration, joy, hope, and blessing. It means I say things in the margins like this: This works so beautifully here. You’ve created an incredible moment here. You’ve grown as a writer here. I can see where you’re almost there. I sense true complexity here. Your written voice shines here.  

A theology of grading rooted in grace means I think about how God deals with my own failure, my own sin, my own inability to abide by the rules. He’s with me; I’m under grace at all times, so when the correction comes, it’s loving and redemptive. Try this. Not quite. If you do this, your written voice will sound more authentic. Think about the difference this makes when I show you this method. Next time, let’s work on this together.

Finally, a theology of grading means I push comments towards the wonder of life, towards marveling, towards–dare I say it?–worship. Student writing in the humanities taps into deeper wells that a great teacher names. I look for mystery, for beauty, for hope. My, what a marvelous thought. This connects to this. This makes me think more deeply about this. What if we pushed this further and thought about this other marvelous thing that your writing gestures towards? Oh my goodness, I have chills here. 

I sit with pages and pages of writing. I’m with Jesus here, and He’s always relating, always covering me with grace, always inviting me deeper into the life of worship. How could His nature not infuse my own through the Holy Spirit and extend even towards the mundane and dreaded act of grading?

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