Essays - by Stephen G. Saupe, Ph.D.; Biology Department, College of St. Benedict/St. John's University, Collegeville, MN 56321;;

Making Time for Christmas


Stephen G. Saupe
College of St. Benedict/St. John�s University
Biology Department
Collegeville, MN  56321

    Quick, what�s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Christmas?  Santa Claus?  Snow?  Baby Jesus?  Gifts?  Chestnuts roasting over an open fire?  Holly, mistletoe, or evergreen trees?  Great ideas, but I can definitely tell that you�re not a teacher like me � you didn�t include �grading papers� in your holiday list.  I�ll bet you even put frankincense and myrrh before �evaluating essays.�  As every professor knows, Christmas and grading go together like eggnog and nutmeg.

    In most colleges and universities the end of the academic term, which usually falls a few days before Christmas, is capped by �Finals Week.�  During this week-long extravaganza faculty collect term papers and write and administer exams.  Then we brace ourselves, like a wooden nutcracker, for the blitzkrieg of grading that will follow.  Somehow, in between shopping, gift wrapping and baking, we have to mark papers, read exams and evaluate projects.  The stress and activities of the holiday season coupled with the mountain of grading can be overwhelming.  And, just when there seems to be no end to the ungraded stack of exams and you�re beginning to understand how exhausted Santa must feel on St. Stephen�s Day, a Grinch-like proclamation arrives from the Registrar � grades are due right after Christmas.  My God, even Scrooge gave Bob Crachit a day off on Christmas! 

    Late on Christmas Eve, while visions of sugarplums are dancing through most peoples� heads, I�m usually sitting at the kitchen table, green marker in hand, trying to meet the deadline.  On more than one occasion I�ve fallen asleep and dreamed that Santa took pity on me and he finished grading my papers.  When I�m finally startled from my nap, I�m always disappointed to find the same stack of papers, only now they�re stained with a big green blob where my pen leaked.  Since I�ve started teaching I can�t remember a Christmas holiday that�s been grading-free.  Grading is as much a part of my holiday traditions as is wild rice soup for Christmas Eve dinner and setting out treats for Santa.  I don�t mind it too much � I�ve always assumed it was part of being a teacher.  I�m just like one of my colleagues, Larry Davis, who says that he loves teaching so much that he does it for free � but, he collects a paycheck to grade exams. 

    Thankfully, my holidays traditions are about to change.  No longer will candy canes or caroling take a backseat to test grading.  No more green-stained exams on Christmas Eve.  The profs at my school won�t let grading spoil one more Christmas.  Their solution to the deadline imposed by the grinchly Registrar is simple yet more brilliant than the Christmas Star � end the semester earlier so that we can finish up our grading before Christmas.  Why didn�t we think of this sooner?  Too much nutmeg in the eggnog?  It�s hard to know, but I do wonder when we should end the semester to avoid a conflict between grading and our holiday celebration. 

    If we shorten the semester by a week or so, then grading final exams will interfere with the celebration of my wife�s birthday � and that will never do.  We�ll definitely need to lop off a few extra days.  Oops � now we�ve run into Thanksgiving and that won�t work, either � I�ll never be able to stay awake grading final projects after gorging myself on turkey.  Clearly the semester must be even shorter, but who wants to grade final exams on Halloween?  If a kid comes to the door and yells �Trick or Treat� I�ll just hand him a fat juicy lab report � heck, it�s a better treat than the apples that Mrs. Hays used to give me.  Nope � we�re just going to have to push the end of the semester back a week or so more � but they can�t expect us to just ignore Columbus Day and I�m certainly not going to grade final exams on my birthday!  It looks as though the only reasonable time to give final exams is at the beginning of September � after Labor Day, of course.

    Next fall, on the first day of each class I�m going to administer my final exam and collect the lab projects and reports.  This will give me plenty of time to evaluate everything and submit the grades by the deadline.  Then I�ll have plenty of time to get ready for Christmas and frankincense will take its rightful place ahead of grading in my traditions for the holiday season.  I�m sure the three Wise Men would approve.

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 © Copyright 03/14/2004 by SG Saupe