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serenade

TA grading turnaround time

7 posts in this topic

Posted (edited)

For 10-15 page undergrad papers, what seems like a reasonable turnaround timeframe for grading as a TA? 

My professor originally said that we TAs would not have to return our students' final papers at all before the end of the semester. If the students wanted them back, they'd have to give us an address to mail it to over the summer or instead, wait until they got back in the fall. However, today one of my fellow TAs suggested the idea that we get them done within 3 days and give them back before the final exam. When I said that wouldn't be feasible for me, the professor gave us one extra day (giving us 4 days to grade). Because I wasn't expecting this turnaround time, I hadn't budgeted time to grade during the days the professor wants us to, and I have multiple deadlines for other things the days before he wants us to give back the exams, meaning realistically I'd end up with less than 24 hours to grade. Had he told us this in advance, that would be one thing but changing his mind the week before at the suggestion of another TA who has a lighter workload is another. Do you think I can politely negotiate about the turnaround time? 

Edited by serenade

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This is graduate school. This is what you are paid to do. While I don't think this whole thing was handled great, it is your job to do what the professor wants (within means of course).

If you have other deadlines, make sure those things are done before the papers are turned in. 

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You should talk to the professor about this issue, as soon as possible. I think you are in the right that because your professor has given one deadline and then effectively moved the deadline to 4 days from today, with very little notice. I am assuming the original deadline would have been sometime after the final exam and the grades due date right? 

Because this is graduate school and TA work is what you're paid to do, I believe this means mutual respect and responsibility between TAs and the professor. If the professor changes the deadline without adequate notice, the professor will have to decide how to handle the fact that some of the TAs will not have finished grading in time. In addition, I feel like the professor has changed the nature of the assignment. If the students aren't getting their papers back, you're providing summative feedback instead of formative feedback. i.e. I'd just assign a letter grade with a few overall comments. But now that the students are getting papers back prior to the final (presumably so that they can learn from it to improve their studying for the final), you are being asked to provide formative feedback, which is a lot more work, in my opinion.

That said, whether or not you want to have this fight/battle is up to you. I don't know how long it will take you to grade all of these papers. I think a reasonable conversation with the professor where you don't start a fight but just bring up your concerns about meeting the deadline and see where it goes. Maybe the professor will change their mind about getting the papers back before the final. 

If they do not change the deadline, I can think of a few things you can do:

1. Accept this and have a miserable 4 days but get everything done.

2. Let your professor know that you would appreciate having more time to provide more feedback, but if the deadline is important to the professor, you will reduce the amount of time on each student in order to get the work done in time.

3. Do the same as #2 but don't tell the professor, just do it.

4. Tell your professor that you would spend as much time per paper as you would with the old deadline, taking the risk that not everything will be done in time. 

5. Same as #4 but don't tell the professor, just do it.

6. Argue more strongly for an extension, using arguments laid out above regarding how you feel about the last minute deadline change and the amount of work.

None of these choices are really ideal and they come with different costs. Personally, if bringing this up with the professor does not work, I would take option 2 or 3. 

------

Finally, I have to say, what's the deal with your co-TA??? Whenever I TA'ed with someone, I always discussed any "suggestion" I wanted to make (especially if they result in more work) with the other TAs before bringing it up with the professor!!!

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So I'm not sure I understand from the OP whether the professor understood that the other TA's suggestion wasn't run part you first, so when s/he said "maybe we could do [blah]" that shouldn't imply that *you* are in agreement with this. Personally, if my TA ever suggested returning an assignment before the deadline, I would never decline. Why not, if s/he can make it? So now the question is whether the prof is aware, and also if the class has already been promised their work will be returned by this earlier deadline. If not, I think it should be much easier to negotiate a later deadline than if promises have been made. So: if the students aren't aware of this interaction, it seems to me that the best course of action is pretty straightforward. You need to write the professor as soon as you can and simply explain that this last-minute change of deadline can't work for you because you have other plans and deadlines and were planning based on your earlier agreement. Any reasonable person should understand that suddenly moving a deadline will cause trouble. Either suggest returning to the earlier deadline, or explicitly say something like "the earliest I could get the grading done is by [reasonable time, given your other commitments]." 

If for whatever reason it's hard to move the deadline back, you might try to negotiate your own deadline (and have the prof walk back their promise, it shouldn't be on you!), or depending on the specifics of the personalities involved, either simply choose to do a less-good job (spend less time on each paper) or actually say that this is what it means if you have to meet this sudden deadline. Alternatively, since there is also a final, something else you could try is to redistribute the workload. Have the other TA do more of the paper grading now, since apparently they have plenty of time, and you do more of the exam grading later. 

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Thanks, TakeruK and Fuzzy, for your helpful suggestions! I really appreciate it. As to your questions, Fuzzy, the other TA suggested this during a hallway chat between the 3 of us (2 TAs and prof) and as soon as he did, I said that that wasn't feasible for me. So I think the professor gathered from that that the other TA had not run his plan by me before suggesting it. And thankfully, none of us had given the students any indication of turn around time, so that's one less hassle to worry about. 

But the good news is, as it turns out: crisis averted! Just got an email about an hour ago from the professor saying the more he thought about it, he decided to go back to his original plan of not giving students back their papers at all unless they wanted us to send it to them over the summer/get it back in the fall. But both your suggestions are really great ones, so maybe this thread will help somebody else in the future who runs into this problem. For the record, I was planning on taking option 6, TakeruK, since I think I had a pretty good case. 

As for my co-TA, well, he gets a bit anxious to impress our professor. The professor is both of our advisors and my co-TA thinks that doing things like showing his prowess to grade papers in 3 days will earn him some additional favor, I think. Also, he taught high school for several years before starting his PhD so I think he is used to his own way of doing things and sometimes runs on autopilot. He means well and apologized profusely to me after the professor walked away when he realized he put me in a bad position. He's just the kind of person who likes to take any chance to impress our advisor without always thinking things through first. 

Thanks again, TakeruK and Fuzzy! 

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Just to add: like everything else, it's important to establish the boundaries you need to be successful. It was perfectly appropriate to say "I'm sorry, that won't work with my schedule. I won't be able to grade the papers before [original date]." And then stick to your guns. 

In the future, there will be a lot of little moments like this. Sometimes, it will be about grading. Other times, someone might drop in a request to help edit a volume or write an article. In all cases, graduate students need to learn to be really, really clear and direct in their responses. Failure to do so will simply result in madness.

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18 hours ago, telkanuru said:

Just to add: like everything else, it's important to establish the boundaries you need to be successful. It was perfectly appropriate to say "I'm sorry, that won't work with my schedule. I won't be able to grade the papers before [original date]." And then stick to your guns. 

In the future, there will be a lot of little moments like this. Sometimes, it will be about grading. Other times, someone might drop in a request to help edit a volume or write an article. In all cases, graduate students need to learn to be really, really clear and direct in their responses. Failure to do so will simply result in madness.

Thanks. This makes me feel a lot better to know that it's appropriate to be assertive in this way. 

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