Like most faculty at colleges of this size and type, I don’t have TAs or graders. I’ll admit, though, that at the end of the semester, when I’m buried under avalanches of papers (to complement the avalanches of snow…), the thought of hiring a grader has a certain appeal. But whom should I hire?
[The LP sits in her hastily-cleared office. The hubbub of oddly-assorted voices drifts in from the hall, no doubt to the annoyance of several colleagues.]
LP: First candidate!
[A middle-aged man, somewhat redolent of horse, walks in.]
LP: Mr., ah, Barkis. Given the sample essay you read, what can you do for this student?
MR. BARKIS: Barkis is willin’!
LP: That’s great, but…willing to do what, exactly? Offer tutorials? Line-edit the entire paper? Promise the student Godiva chocolates in exchange for better work?
MR. BARKIS: Barkis is willin’!
LP: Commendable enthusiasm! However—
MR. BARKIS: Young lady, you tell that student that “Barkis is willin’!”
LP: I’ll…do that. Next!
[The next candidate seems strangely nondescript.]
LP: Your application says that you were previously employed as a scrivener. Could you tell me about your experience as a grader?
BARTLEBY: I would prefer not to.
LP: Errrm. Right. Um…how would you grade this paper, then?
BARTLEBY: I would prefer not to.
LP [sighing]: That makes two of us. Next!
[A stiff, lanky gentleman, dressed in clerical black, strides in.]
LP: Mr. Brocklehurst, I believe that you have experience in the classroom. How would you help this student master his or her problems with punctuation?
MR. BROCKLEHURST: This is a sad, sad sight. The heart trembles and shudders, as if it momentarily finds itself on the brink of eternal hellfire. Nothing more appalling than a hardened sinner, blatantly disregarding every rule of semi-colon usage, yet daring to wave its infernal creation under the very nose of authority--
LP [appalled]: Um, hang on--
MR. BROCKLEHURST: Yea, listen unto me: I call upon you all to witness the degraded ooze that seeps forth from every pixel in this blighted mass of pulp. This student...is...A COMMA SPLICER!
LP [sourly]: Horrors. Actually, I usually recommend review and revision in such cases, not hellfire and brimstone. But I'm old-fashioned that way. Next!
[Another gentleman, this one with a rather prudish air, enters next.]
LP: And you, Mr. Podsnap? What comments might you make?
MR. PODSNAP: I was unable to finish the essay. The prompt was really most unsuitable.
LP: I...what? Unsuitable? In what sense? It's an essay about the relative merits of hardboiled and scrambled eggs!
MR. PODSNAP: One can only imagine the effect on a Young Person's untainted mind. Eggs!
LP: Over easy! Poached! What?!
MR. PODSNAP: The potential associations...I shudder, I absolutely shudder, at the corruption lurking in the word "egg." That you would assign such an essay...Are you sure that you are fit company for those innocent Young Persons who grace your classroom?
LP: I...I...I can't...no, I'm not even going to go there. Next! And hurry!
[A woman enters the room, although the LP finds that she cannot describe her appearance...]
LP: Ms. or Mrs....Governess? OK...How would you evaluate this student's work?
THE GOVERNESS: It seemed to me--thinking the matter over late last night, while I drank my cocoa--that this student had most spendidly fixed the subject of the eggs. Really, he or she (the mystery of the student's gender momentarily stopped me, as it were, in my very tracks, throwing me back on old memories best left unrevisited) hits on the most brilliant expression of the eggs' very egginess. I was caught up--brought out of myself--most superbly arrested.
LP: You're saying it's an "A," then? Or am I misunderstanding you? Because I very well may be misunderstanding you.
THE GOVERNESS: But at the moment I was arrested, I became aware of a new hint, of something half-concealed, lurking at the very periphery of my vision. Something that breathed of unknown horrors, cloaking themselves under this most innocent discussion of eggs. The eggs, I became convinced, were just another way of putting me off--or, rather, putting me out. My hesitancy vanished at once. At last, I knew my way forward--
LP: Yeah. No. I don't want to know. Next!
[Two men come in, carrying a painting of a rather frightening older woman.]
LP: This...is not what I had in mind. [Beat] So. Painting? Your opinions on the misplaced modifier in sentence three?
[The painting is silent. There's a strange dripping sound.]
LP: Don't tell me. Is the roof leaking again? Didn't we just fix it?
[The painting is silent. However, the LP's attention is drawn to the lower lefthand corner, where she discovers a most artistic rendering of the essay.]
LP: Hmm. These comments are really quite astute. And written in such vivid red ink! [Pause] Blood-red. [Longer pause] Annnnnnd...what's that dripping on my floor?
[Brief interlude, during which the LP runs screaming down the hall to fetch several brave colleagues. They toss the painting out the window, then depart, muttering things that the LP decides not to overhear.]
LP [now calm]: Next!
[A beautiful, golden-haired youth enters the room, dressed in the height of 1890s fashion.]
LP: Mr. Gray. (It is Mr. Gray, and not the painting? Because I've had enough paintings for one day.) Your assessment of this paper?
DORIAN GRAY: Such lush profusions of non sequiturs, such exquisite clusters of misplaced modifiers, such delicate embroideries of empty sentences…it would be a loss, a true loss to humanity, to make a single suggestion.
LP [sighing]: Just how do you plan to help this student, exactly?
DORIAN GRAY: By encouraging the student to explore the most choice, the most elegant infelicities. Passive voice! Errant colons! Circular logic! Why imprison this student’s delicate, yet alluringly poisonous originality in the iron cage of correctness?
LP: My colleagues will be so thrilled to hear you say that. Next!
[The final candidate, another elegantly-dressed man, strides in.]
LP: Ah. I believe it’s [checks her notes] Dr. Jekyll, yes? How did you do with the writing sample?
DR. JEKYLL: Well, to be precise, I didn’t grade it. I handed it over to my, er, business partner; we’re at one in all things. Perhaps you would care to take a look?
LP: This is an unusual arrangement, but OK, let’s see…
[The paper is crumpled, ripped, and discolored with stains of uncertain provenance. Moreover, the nearly illegible writing—in gigantic all caps—is in ink that suspiciously resembles dried blood.]
LP [holding the paper aloft between thumb and forefinger]: You know, my students complain about my handwriting, but this is just ridiculous. And I've dealt with enough bloody paperwork for one day. What on earth do the comments say, even?!
DR. JEKYLL: To be honest, I’m not entirely sure. I suggest that we ask Mr. Hyde directly.
[DR. JEKYLL takes a mysterious-looking potion out of his pocket, and prepares to drink.]
LP [hastily]: I’ll…let’s just take it on trust, shall we? I wouldn’t want to trouble Mr. Hyde unnecessarily. [Pretending to look at some papers] Now, if you’ll excuse me…I have fifty more papers to grade.