The Yoga of Grading

Grading is like yoga. Over the last six years in which I’ve been practicing the art of grading, I have found there is a belief system to the practice of grading, an ideology. And everyone has their own system. Some people start from 0 points and only add points when I student does something correct. Some graders start from  100% and work their way down as the student makes mistakes. Are you an additive or subtractive grader? A grader goes through phases in their journey to be a paper grading master. I think there are a three main phases which I went through on my journey to grading enlightenment.

Women talking

Phase 1: The conversational practice

When I first started my journey to grading enlightenment, I found myself very talkative. I enjoyed grading with others. It was a social experience. So, on Sunday morning, I would sit in the grading room with 4 or 5 other people and we would share stories about our experiences. We could discuss how best to grade a problem, how to deal with inconsistencies. We could also share the pictures that our students occasionally drew instead of giving a solution!

New Yogis also go through this process. You look around to see what the heck a “Utkatasana” is. And then you spend the next ten minutes wondering why the instructor didn’t just say “Chair pose”- is she trying to be oblique and snobby? This is the social element of learning the craft. Your instructor keeps telling you that your yoga practice is just between you and your mat, but you can’t help but compare yourself to others: “My runner’s lunge is totally better than everyone else’s!” I couldn’t fathom doing yoga at home. Too many distractions and no outside pressure to make me do the work.


Phase 2: The emotional outpouring

As I continued my spiritual grading journey, I found myself really invested in the answers. I would get really upset. “How could they think that was appropriate?”  or “Weren’t they listening in class?” or “Yay! Good job!”. This made the process of grading really hard. It was long and emotional. But, by this point I was in yoga class regularly…

My instructors would reflect on observing but not judging. Yoga is a process of accepting what is happening on your mat regardless of what your brain is judging. “It’s yoga practice, not yoga perfect,” my instructor would say. Let go of the practice thus far. It doesn’t serve you to dwell on it.

So I tried this. And my grading went faster. I was less tired at the end.


Phase 3: The practice of inward focus

Now, I don’t grade in groups. In fact, I prefer to grade at home. I don’t need the feedback. I have accepted that some of my students will do well, and some will do poorly. I know the chants and the rituals of grading. I know what works for me. I try to grade so that a student is less likely to cheat, edit their exam, and return it to ask for more points. Most importantly, I know that a poor student score doesn’t mean I failed. It’s like when I fall out of a big toe hold. My sense of self is not diminished when I fall on my mat.

Sure, sometimes I’ll be inconsistent with my grading. And sometimes I’ll have to re-grade some exams because I goofed up the first time. But, despite the potential for frustration, I (mostly) remain calm. So now I am comfortable with my grading practices… Which is good since I only have a month and a half of grading left before I leave academics for a while. I’m not sure what the moral is here. Better late than never? Finding peace in a yucky task is not wasted effort? Yeah. Both of those sound good; let’s go with those.


About Samantha from SocialMath

Applied Mathematician and writer of
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