restoring our biblical and constitutional foundations


Graders Who Don’t Grade

 David Alan Black 

Recently I had a discussion with a college student about teachers and teaching. He expressed some frustration that his term papers were being graded only on form. Content wasn’t even being looked at. “Turabian is all that matters,” he noted dourly. What’s more, the professors themselves weren’t grading their students’ papers. That was left to a “grader.”

If he was shocked at what he was experiencing in college, he was even more shocked when I said to him, “I have had several graders, but one thing they never do for me is grade.” I have always graded my students’ papers myself – even in my New Testament Introduction classes, which average over 100 pupils. That’s two hundred 10-page papers a semester, which I read myself and always leave comments on.

I remember the frustration I had when I was in seminary and had just toiled over some paper, only to discover that a “grader” had assigned me my grade. I believed that assigning grades was the prof’s responsibility. After all, he was making good money (well, he was making money at least) to teach me, and if I was going to sweat drops of blood working on a paper, it seemed only fitting that he should reciprocate, at least to a degree.

It’s all a matter of stewardship. I grade my students’ papers because I believe that’s my responsibility under God as a teacher. So if students have a problem with the grade or a question about a comment that was made on the paper, they know with whom to remonstrate. The only exception I make are in my Greek classes, where I have the students grade their own quizzes and exams immediately after taking them, which reinforces the learning experience and is just plain pedagogically sound.

Just as not all “pastors” are pastors, so not all “teachers” and teachers. (By the way, not all “students” are students either, but that’s a topic for another day.) The gifted teacher is eager to do his best to help his students, even at the price of personal inconvenience. He has an “open door policy,” knowing that the steps of a righteous man are ordered by the Lord, and that by putting his students before his own research and writing there will always be time for his own research and writing. In 29 years of teaching I have had an open door for students, and no student who visits my office is ever considered an “interruption.” At the same time, I have (by the grace of God) been able to produce not a few journal articles and books along the way, but never, I might add, at the cost of my real calling, which is to teach and mentor and “shepherd” (I like that term) my precious God-given charges.

What, then, do my graders do? Rote work. Recording scores. Averaging final grades. Running down books in the library. Substitute teaching when I have to attend a professional meeting. I choose my graders for the potential they show as teachers, and I work with them in a mentorship relationship to help them achieve their goals.

Peter put it this way: “Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of the varied grace of God. Whoever speaks, let it be with God’s words. Whoever serves, do so with the strength that God supplies, so that in everything God will be glorified through Jesus Christ.”

Folks, it’s as simple as that. Determine what God has gifted you to do, then do it (yourself). Don’t shuffle your responsibilities and duties onto the shoulders of others, even if others are paying them to do that. Martin Luther noted (commenting on 1 Peter 4:7-11):

Peter would remind especially each individual to take heed to the duties of his particular office. In the pursuance of his own occupation, each is to attend faithfully to whatever is committed to his charge; to do whatever he is commanded to do. As the Scriptures teach in many places, there is no work nobler than being obedient to the particular calling and work assigned of God, and satisfied therein; faithfully serving one’s neighbor and not gazing after what is committed to, or enjoined upon, another, nor presuming to transcend the limits of one’s own commission.

I couldn’t have said it any better.

April 21, 2005

David Alan Black is the editor of If you would like to know more about becoming a follower of King Jesus, please feel free to write Dave.

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