Last year, I wrote a post arguing that undergraduate teaching is not a necessary evil--contending, among other things, that it can help one become a better philosopher by incentivizing clarity over jargon, simplicity over unnecessary complexity, and so on. Today, I would like to suggest that something else isn't a necessary evil: grading.
I know, I know: you think I have to be kidding. Who likes grading? But now notice: I didn't say I like it. I just said I would suggest that it's not a "necessary evil." What's the difference, you ask? The difference, I think, is best understood in terms of attitude toward grading. To say that something is a "necessary evil" is to say, roughly, that you wish you didn't have to do it, but you have to do it to get other important things--like getting paid to do research. This isn't my attitude toward grading at all. I don't particularly enjoy grading, but I also don't consider it a necessary evil: I consider at something I want to do, even though I don't much enjoy it. Why?
I was inspired to write this post today by two things. First, I came across the following comment over at this discussion at Leiter reports on "the surprising positives/negatives of becoming a professional philosopher":
Negatively, I didn't anticipate how much I would come to dislike the grading. I teach at a second-tier school, and few students are really capable of doing good work in philosophy (even our majors, alas). As a result, the grading is drudgery and has become something I dread. Fortunately, (for now at least) the positives about the job still outweigh this negative.
I then had the experience grading some paper rewrites a few of my students turned in today. As I think I've explained before, I have a standing policy of allowing my students to rewrite and resubmit their first term-papers as many times as they want before the final exam. The rationale behind this practice is that (A) by being a really hard grader, but (B) allowing students to rework their papers, the practice--even though it involves a lot of grading--incentivizes improvement.
Anyway, here was my experience grading today: it was clear to me from the papers I was grading that the students in question were working really hard, writing far more clearly than before, developing better arguments, formulating better objections, etc. I still didn't enjoy the grading, but I sure as heck saw the value in it. I felt like the grading was important--that the comments I had given to students on their earlier drafts were making a real difference. The grading wasn't fun, but it also felt like a necessary good.
So, I would say, grading may be a pain in the you-know-what. But, it needn't be something you dread--and it needn't be something you consider a "necessary evil." It can be one of the most rewarding parts of the job! It was today, for me, at any rate.