You may find it odd to have the words ministry and grading juxtaposed in the same sentence. I did. However, after reading this article, I understood.
As an instructor, what is your approach to grading? Your attitude about grading? Do you enjoy hearing yourself expound on the interesting characteristics of your academic content or sharing your rich experiences from the field, but do not see much value in the grading process? Is it sheer misery to you?
Richard Ramsey (2012) views grading as “another strategic opportunity in student spiritual formation” (p. 411). It is an investment made in to the lives of the students, not different from course design, lesson planning, and content delivery. As instructors, we must “not … build a wall between spiritual benefits and educational benefits” (p. 409). In fact, educational benefits within the setting of Christian higher ed will have spiritual impact.
Grading may provide an opportunity for spiritual ministry, but, nonetheless, it is often perceived as judgment. Students, like most individuals, balk at judgment and do not welcome constructive criticism intended to help them grow. Ramsey (2012) highlighted the following points to help instructors approach grading from a biblical perspective:
- Grading is an opportunity to mentor. The very nature of grading creates a teacher-student relationship through which instructors “listen to the student and respect the student’s unique voice. To prayerfully and intently give time to the voice of the student is to start to view grading as an avenue for ministry” (p. 413).
- Grading is an opportunity for spiritual discernment. For example, it is a way to help students “discover greater truth, how they might greater love the truth, or challenge them to follow truth” (p. 414). Teachers do not just pouring on more and more information but dialogue with students about the content and their understanding of it. Grading is a way to model accountability and evaluation and to dialogue regarding the student’s work.
- Grading is an opportunity for teaching discernment. Through the internet, students enter a dense jungle of information; the instructor must teach them to discern validity and integrity of the information available at their fingertips. The challenge here is that students may be more familiar with navigating the jungle than the teacher, but may lack “the discernment to recognize the worth of what may be found” (p. 415).
- Grading is an opportunity to equip. As a grader, the teacher speaks as a prophet who pinpoints “areas of weakness for the sake of future growth” (p. 417). The grade alone is not enough for the instructor to help students know what to do next to reach their career or ministry goals. It is up to the teacher to seize “the unique opportunity … to help cast spiritual vision for the future” (416).
You may be thinking, what a lot of work! Yes, it is, but it is worthwhile work, the type of work which impacts lives. It will be important to view grading as much a part of your ministry as how you teach or what you assign.
Ramsey’s conclusion is worth repeating here:
A rethinking and retooling of how the grading task fits into the calling of the teacher may bring about fruitful ministry in the lives of students and those to whom the student will minister. The teacher may then help fulfill the same prayer as the teacher Paul had for the Philippians: “That our love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:9-11).
My prayer for you is that God would “give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling …” (Eph. 1:17-18).
Ramsey, R. (2012). The Ministry of … Grading? Christian Education Journal. Series 3, 9(2), 408-419.