Grading Homework

I haven’t been a student for over a decade. Yet, every fall still feels like the start of a new year. Suddenly the air feels crisp, carrying the hint of a chill. Nights come quickly, the sky darkening earlier and earlier. Mornings stay darker, lightening later and later.

Many of my formative years were spent as a student. Being raised by teachers firmly implanted the academic schedule into my bones. Incidentally, this also coincides with the start of a new orchestra season. Even without being a student, this is also the start of a “new” year for me in another way and has been for decades.

Always at this time of the year, seeing and hearing the children once again walk and cycle to school. Noticing the influx of more people everywhere all the time, all signify the start of something new. These things happening also remind me of my father’s nightly grading homework ritual. Though long in the past, each fall reminds me of his dedication and diligence as a teacher.

As a youth, I watched my father take over the dining room table after dinner each night. He sat quietly with a blue pen in his hand reviewing students’ homework. He made checks for correct answers and tiny x’s, sometimes with notes, for the wrong ones. As a teacher, he once told me that grading assignments and getting them back the next day was his homework. He felt that students learned better from the instant feedback and made it a point to return work promptly.

His grading pen was also special in its own way. To anybody looking at it, it had the appearance of a normal blue-ink bic pen. The kind you purchase cheap and in bulk. Or find laying around everywhere. Those who knew my father, however, understood that it was his pen. He rarely let anyone else use it, even family members. When he did let someone use it, he watched them until the pen returned safely to his pocket. And yet, people were always asking to borrow his pen. First of all, he always had one. Everybody knew he kept one in his pocket, all the time. Secondly, the ink always flowed easily. I’m guessing it’s because the ink stayed warm from being close to his body heat.

I’m reminded of all these things when the weather starts to change each fall.

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