Except for the fact that it removes a pile from my desk or bag, I hate returning papers, especially early on in first year writing classes.
Of the papers I turned back today, about half were failing. I'm just guessing, but most of our students have decent GPAs and class ranks out of high school, and they probably didn't fail many assignments. But if you turn in an essay talking all about how wonderful or crappy a reading was, without addressing the actual topic of the assignment, you've turned in a failing essay.
I get a strong sense that these students feel betrayed because they think I've judged them harshly. Partly this is because they think a grade on a paper is a personal judgment of their worth, though it's not at all from my point of view. And partly this is because writing classes tend to work a lot on a mentoring model, with instructors trying to encourage students and help them through the pre-writing process. It's a tough balance, the mentoring vs evaluation balance, but it has to be done in our educational model because I'm responsible for assigning grades. Still, watching them leave the room, looking down, unhappy, unwilling to meet my eyes, that's just hard.
Then there's also my disappointment. What did I miss that the students didn't address the assignment well? I know we put that up on the board as one of the things that would demonstrate competence for the assignment before their peer editing.
I got a feeling from one of the essays that one of the writers was trying to play me. I'm betting this young man has been taught to play the system well for a long time; he wrote a "heartfelt" whine about how difficult life is for women and how badly he feels for us. Even if I really felt it to be heartfelt (and I can't decide), it doesn't address the assignment! The point isn't to play to what you think I want to read!
I didn't read drafts of this assignment. Instead, I give students back a graded paper, respond to it as fully as I can as an argument and essay, and then give them the opportunity to revise for a totally different grade. (The revision policy encourages revision, yay, but also makes the tough grade less painful to for me write down.)
I did read drafts for those who came to office hours, sometimes several times. And as I was leaving, I heard one young man (who'd redrafted his essay completely after our first meeting, and then revised and added considerably after our second) remark that he thought his peer could do a lot with revision.
The upside is that getting a failing grade will provide some needed incentive for some students to actually take assignments seriously. It's easy in college, especially when you're starting off, to think that the same strategies that got you to college will get you through. If they do, then either you had great strategies and study habits, or you're not getting much of an education in college. The reality check of early grades can shake things up, especially when the student can replace the grade by revision. (Too bad it's not that easy to get a "do over" for other parts of life, eh?)
The sucky part about giving up emotional and comfort eating, especially chocolate, is that you've given up chocolate and comfort eating. That's hard to replace with something equally socially acceptable for office "consumption." I think I'll wander down the hall to see if someone wants to walk over to the coffee stand to get my fix.