Monday, March 16, 2009

Finding My Lane

English usage is sometimes more than mere taste, judgment and education -- sometimes it's sheer luck, like getting across the street.
E.B. White

You know how when you first get on the road with a long, long trip before you, and it takes a while to get comfortable in your seat? That time before you relax and find your line in the road as you’re trying to get out of the city? That’s where I am, although as of today, I’m on the outskirts of town, ready to roll.

The temporary job I have taken involves scoring high school assessment essays. Sort of a No Child Left Behind measure of student abilities. These essays, written by 11th grade students, require a passing mark to attain a diploma. An exit test, as it were. Top Secret stuff this is. I had to sign a Confidentiality Statement vowing not to discuss any of the essays I score. Considering the quality of work I’ve read thus far, forgetting them as fast as I can offers my only option for survival.

Last week, after being exposed to a variety of essays, I found myself appalled at the state of student writing. Took me two days before I decided my only chance for keeping the job was to turn off my brain. To close my editing mind and stop looking for strong verbs and good dialogue, not to mention complete sentences. I wrote on my rubric paper FORGET WHAT YOU KNOW - STAY IN THE BOX.

This paradigm seems to have helped. Friday they turned me loose to score away. Not sure if I’ve dumbed myself down or am better practiced at adapting to any situation after raising three boys. So far my only conversation with a supervisor came this morning when I was moved to another group. Apparently I scored high enough on the qualifying tests that I needed no further training. When we left today, my new supervisor said to others in my group “Did my messages help you see how to score that?” I looked around. We get messages? I didn’t get any.

I have so many topics I want to discuss, but I’m too tired. I’m making a list as I want to address this plight of the stay at home mom returning to work. And the middle—aged women now having to return to the economy after years of supporting their husband in their careers, or post divorce. The difficulties faced by the working woman--period, as well as my musings on all those alongside me in this temporary venture.

Meanwhile, I can tell you I have made it to the YMCA three nights out of five. Last week, 40 minutes on the elliptical aided in lowering my blood pressure while I pined over the state of the written word.

I’m beginning to think this job will be like driving across Nebraska on I-80—one long line where the road goes on forever and the exit ramp never comes.


  1. First time by.

    I can only imagine how frustrating it must be to read through the writings of our future leaders. Yikes!

  2. I feared you would find that to be the case ... those alarming essays. And the quality of education in Texas is far better than other states, by leaps and bounds! Oh, heaven help us! Look on the bright side; those aren't California 11th grade essays you're grading.

  3. Oh my. I hope you at least find a few truckstops and rest areas along the way. As a past teacher and current mother of three teens, the educational system today is one of my biggest worries. Thankfully, my kids' private school has had some excellent ACE English teachers.

    Happy trails!

  4. Well, I did warn you. :-)

    But it's an income and a job for your resume.

    And once every 300 essays there's something sweet.

  5. I just couldn't do it!!!!!! Keep your brain turned off!!!!!! Take your own advice and you'll make it through it!

  6. Kudos to you for working out even tho you're exhausted. You're my inspiration. Sorry the job is so disheartening. Sounds like maybe you should be on the teaching end instead of the grading end. Just a thought........

  7. It worries me that the writing is so poor. I have one son who is a gifted writer but the schools do not reward creative writing anymore. You must write to fit a formula. Very upsetting.

  8. I applaud you for your efforts to turn off your brain (how warped does that sound?!). I briefly considered becoming a teacher, but realized my career would be short-lived because I would traumatize the youth unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of my instruction.

  9. When I first started teaching college writing, I was in shock for three years.

    Then I reached a tipping point where I decided their skills sucked and, yea, they sucked...but that I should try to meet them where they are instead of despairing over where they're not...and to see that so many students aren't terrible writers because they aren't trying but more because THEY JUST DON'T KNOW how to be better. I still get all huffy and judgey--how can you not?--but I try to temper it with seeing that I had so many advantages that so many don't.

    And stuff.

  10. Oh, and btw, I'm rereading my rambling comment there and thinking maybe 4 fewer ounces of wine tonight would have made it more pithy.

    That noted, I hope you get my point.


Let me know what you think. Every word you write, I appreciate.


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