This week, I was reminded of probably the most important pedagogical lesson I learned in grad school. During my first year, I hadn’t been given much funding–only a “gradership,” a term new to me. So unlike the rest of my peers, my first semester I was evaluating student work in a political theory course, with maybe 60 students. The professor–a hugely venerated figure in the field who I was excited to have the opportunity to work with–asked me to grade just six papers and he’d review them to see if my grades were on target before I graded all of them. Made sense. When I met with him to go over the papers, he decided that my evaluation was off for five of the six grades: he lowered two, raised three, and left one the same. Humbled, I walked back to the TA office to enter the new grades.
Here’s the thing I realized in the TA hovel: he had lowered the two grades I had assigned to students with traditionally female names and raised the grades of the three students with traditionally male names. And the sixth paper? During our meeting, he had puzzled over the name for quite some time, wondering if it was man’s or a woman’s name. I had no opinion myself on that. That grade he left alone.