Myself As A Teacher Essay Grading

Why I Became a Teacher

July 6, 2015

July 6, 2015

By Rebekah Schilperoort

We asked some of our newest Milken Educators “What factors influenced your decision to become a teacher?” For some it was an innate calling at a young age. For others it was a deeply personal experience. But no matter the path, these educators have profound reasons for choosing the teaching profession. Click through this gallery to read their inspiring stories

Tracy Espiritu (NJ '14)

Tracy began her career at an engineering company, then lost her job due to downsizing. But training junior engineers while still at the company, she realized that she had a knack and passion for teaching.

“Looking back, I may have been naïve in my decision to teach, thinking, as what the general public may think also, ‘how hard can it be?’ To my surprise, it is the hardest, thankless job I ever ended up loving. I am grateful for the turn of events that lead me to become a teacher, otherwise I would not have found my calling.” (STEM Teacher at Dr. Albert Einstein Academy #29 in Elizabeth, NJ)

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Jana Fukada (HI ’14)

Jana’s experiences as a student—in particular what she learned from her many great teachers over the years—drew her to the teaching profession.

“As a young girl I always dreamed about becoming a teacher because my teachers were able to make learning so much fun. As I got older, school was not as easy for me but my teachers always took the time to help me understand what was being taught. My teachers fostered within me a desire to learn, challenge myself and explore. I wanted to share that same experience with others.” (Curriculum Coach at Mililani Uka Elementary School in Mililani, HI)

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Ana Gutierrez (AZ ’14)

Ana came to the U.S. with her parents at a very young age. Her experience in the American education system was a significant influence on her choice to become a teacher.

“My decision to enter education is a direct result of having wonderful teachers and education opening the door for growth and opportunity in this country. My parents immigrated to this country when I was 2 years old. They always reminded me that the United States was a place where people came to follow their dreams. At a very young age, it was inculcated that the only way to achieve your dreams and aspirations was through a college education. When I first started school in the U.S. I knew very little English, but with the help of my teachers and aides, I was able to learn and exceed academically. As education opened many doors for me, I decided in college that I wanted to do the same for my community. I decided that through teaching I could affect the lives of many students who experienced similar challenges as I faced. To this day, I know that every student who walks through our doors deserves as excellent an education as any other student in the country does. My love of learning and teaching continues to motivate me to become a better teacher and to help nurture the value of life-long learning in others.” (TAP Master Teacher at Wildflower School in Goodyear, AZ)

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Angela Harvala (MN ’14)

Angela’s love of learning and passion for teaching was awakened at an early age by equally passionate and dedicated teachers.

“I was lucky to have many passionate, clever teachers as a child that instilled a thirst for knowledge and love for math and books. They made solving problems exciting and literature come alive. But, more importantly, they made a difference in my life. I know from the time I was young that I wanted to help others discover the wonders I had been shown. I found a knack for guiding children in the acquisition of knowledge and skills. I also took pride in the success of others. The way their eyes lit up in response to understanding ignited my excitement for teaching. More importantly, knowing I was making an impact beyond that of academics cemented my decision to become part of this important, evolving and noble profession.” (Teacher at North Elementary School in Princeton, MN)

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Maggie Hawk (MD ’14)

Maggie’s personal struggles with a learning disability fueled her desire to teach.

“When I was in first grade, my teacher made a profound impact on my life. She taught me how to be excited about learning while challenging me every day to reach my full potential. One of the personal challenges I had to overcome as a student was being dyslexic. From an early age, I was able to overcome challenges through hard work and determination, as well as the support of my teachers and family. Through my personal struggles, I was inspired to become an educator so I could teach kids and challenge them to reach their full potential through hard work and the relentless pursuit to become their best self. My first grade teacher first exposed me to this attitude toward learning and made me realize very early in life that becoming a teacher was not only going to be my future but a lifelong passion!” (First-grade teacher at Yellow Springs Elementary School in Frederick, MD)

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Michelle Johnson (DC ’14)

Teaching is a “calling” for Michelle.

“Each day I wake up excited to get to school and help our young students reach their potential through fostering a love of learning. I know that instilling a love of learning in students ensures a brighter future for them and all mankind.” (Second-grade teacher at Seaton Elementary School in Washington, DC)

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Carman McBride (AR ’14)

At a very young age, Carman felt the pull to become an educator and discover new and creative ways to teach for different learning styles.

“A teacher is one of the only jobs that every child gets the opportunity to observe over and over again. I had some extraordinary teachers growing up and always wanted to impact children the way they had impacted me. I’ve always thought in terms of different learning styles and modes of communication. I would evaluate presenters or teachers in my head and think of ways that they could communicate to their audience more effectively. It was fun for me! I looked up to teachers and communicators who taught in unique and creative ways. They had the ability to captivate and inspire me to change. I knew that one day if I became a teacher I, too, could do that.” (EAST Facilitator at Don R. Roberts Elementary School in Little Rock, AR)

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Desi Nesmith (CT ’14)

Growing up in a family of educators, teaching is a profession that Desi has always revered.

“I knew at a very young age that I wanted to be a teacher. My father was a fifth-grade teacher in Hartford, Connecticut. My brothers and I would go up in the summer to help set up his classroom. My grandmother was a paraprofessional in the same school. I come from a long line of educators, including aunts, uncles and cousins.” (Principal of Metacomet School in Bloomfield, CT)

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Lindsey Parker (LA ’14)

As a fourth generation teacher, Lindsey knew first-hand the rewards and challenges that would accompany the profession.

“In the end, I looked to two of the most influential teachers in my life; my gifted teacher Mrs. Thompson and my mother, who taught me middle school English language arts. I wanted to make a difference in my community by making a difference in individual student lives. There’s no regret, no second-guessing of my decision to become a teacher. Each day I recommit to this work and I consider being an educator a lifestyle choice. Teaching fills my entire life with purpose and love that continues to multiply over time.” (TAP Master Teacher at North DeSoto Elementary 3-5 School in Stonewall, LA)

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Anthony Petrelis (MA ’14)

Anthony’s “love for helping others” influenced his decision to become a teacher.

“I get a lot of gratification in helping people and students achieve their goals. I know that I sometimes struggled in school and had difficulty with concepts, so I want to be there for the children like my teachers were there for me.” (Fifth-grade teacher at McGlynn Elementary School in Medford, MA)

Bio | Photos | Video | Related Story: Milken Educator Shaves Head for Kids with Cancer
LeeAnna Rabine (SD ’14)

Seeing the lives her parents positively impacted as educators was incredibly inspiring to LeeAnna.

“I love working with children and making a positive difference in their lives. I appreciate that I can utilize all of my passions in my classroom on a daily basis (music, dancing, American Sign Language). The challenge that comes with identifying the ‘trigger’ that will jump start a student’s learning is exciting to me! So many of my teachers inspired me and it made me want to be just like them!” (Kindergarten teacher at Hawthorne Elementary School in Sioux Falls, SD)

Bio | Photos | Video
Nardi Routten (FL ’14)

After working in the insurance industry for several years, Nardi decided to follow a lifelong dream of becoming a teacher.

“I remember I always wanted to become a teacher. However, in college I decided to pursue a degree in finance. Since I was a teenager, I worked with children at my church—a passion that has continued into adulthood. Seeing the spark and the desire to learn in the eyes of children led me finally to pursue my love of teaching. Being a catalyst for change in a child’s life helped influence by decision to become a teacher.” (Fourth-grade teacher at Frances K. Sweet Elementary School in Fort Pierce, FL)

Bio | Photos | Video | Related Story: What Do Your Students See?
Kelly Wilber (IN ’14)

Through her brother’s struggles and determination to overcome his mental handicap, Kelly became motivated to dedicate her career to helping students learn.

“My first inspiration was my brother, David. David was born with Down syndrome. We are seven years apart, but when we were children we learned together. I realized at an early age that everyone has the ability to learn, but the process may look different. My brother taught me the importance of hard work and perseverance. I wanted to become a teacher in order to work with kids like David who face learning challenges.

"As an elementary student, I was inspired by my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Mary Kegebein. She had a magical way of making learning meaningful and fun. She made every student in her class believe they could accomplish any dream if they worked hard enough. I hope that I help my students create memories that will inspire them to become future educators.” (TAP Mentor Teacher at Southport Elementary School in Indianapolis, IN)

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Candace Caraco, TA, Department of English

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Grading student papers for a course in any discipline presents a series of challenges different from grading other kinds of assignments. Typically, a wide range of responses will be acceptable, and every paper (unless it is plagiarized) will have some merit. Consequently, grading essays demands a teacher’s close attention to insure that each paper is judged by the same standards. A method for evaluating essays that breaks the grading process into parts can help an instructor work more consistently and efficiently. By assessing papers based upon the three general categories of ideas, argument, and mechanics and style, categories easily adapted for each discipline and assignment, an instructor can more easily recognize and comment on an essay’s strengths and weaknesses and so face that daunting pile of twenty, forty, or even one hundred essays with less trepidation. Furthermore, if teachers make clear to students how this method works, fewer students will be confused about their grades or apt to charge that papers are graded in an arbitrary or purely subjective way.

Before applying the three categories for evaluation, think through what it is you want an assignment to accomplish. Grades should reflect the most significant strengths and weaknesses of an essay, so a teacher should carefully consider ahead of time what expectations he or she has for a paper and especially what he or she most wants students to do for a particular assignment. For example,

  • Do the instructions to students require specific tasks, such as agreeing or disagreeing with an author, outlining a book’s argument for review, or analyzing a particular section of a work?
  • What is it that students should show they understood?

More generally, a teacher may also consider the following:

  • Has the student presented ideas in a logical order?
  • Is the essay written in clear, grammatically correct prose?
  • Has the student offered explanation or examples to support generalizations?

For any given assignment, your criteria for success may vary in the details; whatever they are, make a list of them. Ideally, students would receive a copy of this list before they begin writing their essays.

The problem with such a list of criteria, however, is that it can quickly grow unwieldy. While we need some specific questions as a checklist for student writing success, we can benefit from a streamlined evaluation system. The ideas/argument/mechanics and style format is a simple way to group criteria, both for yourself and your students. Once you have a set of criteria for an essay to succeed, you can decide how these questions fit under the three headings. A general breakdown of these questions might look like this:


  • Does the student understand the accompanying reading or the principles behind the experiment, etc.?
  • Does the student offer original interpretations?
  • Do the student’s explanations of terms, ideas, and examples demonstrate an ability to grasp the main points, paraphrase them, and apply them?
  • Does the student answer the question(s) assigned?
  • Does the essay demonstrate an understanding of a subject, or does it wander from one subject to the next without offering more than superficial remarks?


  • Can we easily determine what the author’s main point is?
  • Does the essay provide a series of points that add up to an argument supporting the main point (thesis)?
  • Does the essay proceed logically from point to point?
  • Does the student provide examples and explanations to support his or her generalizations?
  • Does the essay contain contradictions? Is the paragraph structure logical?


  • Is it clear what the student’s point of view is?
  • Does the student control tone? Is the essay free of grammatical errors?
  • Is the essay punctuated appropriately?
  • Do citations and bibliography follow the correct format?
  • Is the prose clear or do you puzzle over individual sentences?
  • Are words spelled correctly?

What I am suggesting is essentially adapted from the methods of two English professors, Charlene Sedgwick and Steve Cushman. Sedgwick’s “ENWR Handbook” offers guidelines for evaluating freshman composition papers by assessing focus, organization, style, and mechanics; Cushman has in the past recommended that graders for his upper-level literature courses weigh mechanics and style (together) as one-third of a grade, and ideas and argument as the other two-thirds. Though instructors for non-English courses may want less emphasis on writing skills per se in an essay grade, I would argue that papers for all courses should be evaluated at least in part for their grammar, punctuation, and prose style because these fundamentals of writing are everywhere necessary for readers to understand writers. And a teacher in any discipline can easily tailor the three categories of ideas/argument/mechanics and style to the conventions of the course and its academic discipline.

Simplified (and Platonized) then, these three categories translate into the following grade scale: essays with good ideas that are logically organized into an argument and written in clear and mechanically clean prose receive an A; essays lacking in one category (e.g., have poor organization) receive a B; essays weak in two categories receive a C; and essays that manage none the three general criteria garner a D or fail. What constitutes an “A” within any given category will also depend upon the course level and the assignment, but in a very general way, if a student’s essay can answer “yes” to all of your questions for a category, then the student should have an “A” for that portion of the grade. (More explicit criteria appear in “Responding to Student Writing” by Stella Deen in the November, 1995, Teaching Concerns.)

Particularly for new teachers, it is sometimes helpful to read through several essays to see what an average paper for a class looks like. Checking to see if several papers have similar difficulties can also help you detect unclear instructions in the assignment or a content issue that may require further class discussion: if we have been unclear in some way, then we should be prepared to cut our students some slack when evaluating that part of the assignment.

However much we simplify the process, grading essays will never be as simple as marking multiple choice exams. Most student essays are some combination of good ideas and slight misunderstanding, clear argument and less clear argument: they don’t neatly divide into three parts. Typically the problems in an essay are closely related: for example, a misunderstanding of content can lead to a logical flaw in the argument and to prose that is full of short sentences because the author is not certain which ideas should be subordinated to others. Because of this system of logical relations, it is all the more important to include a final comment with a grade.

Writing final comments may indeed slow grading, but the pedagogical benefits of comments far outweigh the few minutes per paper needed to write them. Students continue to learn from an assignment if they understand what their work accomplished and what it didn’t. More importantly, final comments can help students write more fully conceived and better executed papers on the next assignment. (For a time-saving method of offering detailed comments about common problems in a set of essays, see Nancy Childress’s essay “Using General Comment Sheets,” published in the October, 1995 issue of Teaching Concerns; she recommends preparing a handout for the entire class in addition to [shorter] written comments on individual essays.)

One way to organize an end comment is to write at least one sentence pertaining to each of the three categories of ideas, argument, and style and mechanics. Breaking an essay into these three components can help us comment on an essay’s strengths and weaknesses more quickly than if we had no set criteria or if we had too many. A particularly successful comment will explain to a student how ideas, argument, style, and even grammar work together. Final comments also serve as a check on ourselves, especially if we tie our general end comments to specific examples within the paper. For example, when I finish reading Student A’s essay, I may sense that he didn’t offer proof in support of assertions. But when I look for an example of an unsupported assertion, I find there are passages that might serve as supporting evidence; however, he has not explained very carefully how the examples work, so my impression has been that his essay lacks proof. Even when we are sure that we have avoided bias and inconsistency, comments pointing to examples will better illustrate to students what they can improve. Above all, comments should not be mere justifications for grades, though they may coincidentally deter students from seeking explanations as to why the received a “B” instead of an “A.”

TRC NOTE: For help in implementing these suggestions, request a Writing Workshop.

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