Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Grim Reader and other anomalies

If I had to meet the Grim Reader, I'm glad it happened on Thursday morning. If I'd met him earlier in the week, I might have run straight to the river and thrown myself in. 

He sat at breakfast looking funereal while the rest of us at the table giggled over silly comments we'd read in student essays--and let me just interject a note on how inhumane it is to expect people who've been reading 300 student essays a day and sleeping poorly at night to engage in sparkling repartee while still ingesting their morning quota of caffeine. There's a reason I don't have breakfast with strangers every day and if you ask me a simple question some morning before I've had my orange juice and granola, you'll understand why.

So anyway, a bunch of us are chattering and laughing and failing to notice that this guy over on the other side of the table is looking more and more grim, and then during a lull in the conversation he chimes in to chastise us. This is serious work, he says, and we need to take it seriously. The students work really hard and we should give them the respect they deserve by taking their work very very seriously. How dare we laugh? 

Nobody's laughing any more. Pretty soon everyone leaves to get back to the serious work of reading student essays.

And it is serious work. If you don't believe me, ask my eyeballs, which seriously threatened to go on strike at least twice a day. But seriously, it's possible to respect the work while still appreciating its lighter points. If I couldn't laugh once in a while I'd walk away from the pile of papers and never look back.

But the Grim Reader was an anomaly; in a week of grading essays, I never met anyone else who made me want to run screaming from the room. I enjoyed talking with high school English teachers and college professors from all over the country, and I learned a little something from every encounter. Mostly I learned that AP readers are passionately serious about respecting their students and improving their teaching, but I also learned that Sluggers Field offers terrific hot dogs, that "no tipping allowed" sometimes means "tipping expected," and that it's possible to read in your sleep but the results are not particularly accurate.

Yesterday my table leader asked if I'd come back next year, but I couldn't answer. I don't know. I found out that I can do the work pretty well and remain fairly sane, and where else can I make that much money for one week's work? But there's always the chance that the Grim Reader is not an anomaly. If I had to share a table with him and his ilk, I would walk away very quickly and never ever look back. Seriously.        


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