DR. WALLACE: Do English teachers really read every word of each essay a student writes? I have a bet with one of my fellow students about this! It seems unlikely to me that they do because there are often 25 or more students per class, and some of the essays we must turn in are quite lengthy.

I know you were previously a coach and an administrator, but maybe you were also a teacher once. What do you think is the answer to our debate? — Curious High School Student, via email

CURIOUS HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: Your guess was correct. I in fact started out as a teacher, and an English teacher to be specific! I of course can only speak for myself, but I trust many of my fellow English teachers likely have a similar approach and style to reading and grading essays submitted by their students.

The key is practice and repetition. Any skill can be honed and advanced by lots and lots of practice and "reps." When I was grading essays, I did indeed read every word for the first 40% to 60% of the essay to assess the style, mastery of the subject matter and the logic being presented. Spelling and punctuation were scrutinized as well.

From there, the balance of the essay can be scanned quickly in a format like speed-reading, and if the remainder of the essay flows like the first 60%, then the grade can be determined and applied. But occasionally during the "scan" portion of an essay, something will jump out. It could be an interesting transition, a change in direction or logic or something else that triggers a return to word-by-word scrutiny! And in each of the papers I had this experience, I did indeed read each word more slowly to be sure to grasp and comprehend the concept and thoughts being presented by the student.

My feeling has always been that most students put a lot of time and effort into writing their essays, and they always deserve to be graded with careful scrutiny. It's just that some essays are easier to grade than others -- and interestingly in my experience there was no definitive trend or correlation to the grades achieved by those that needed more careful reading. They were basically evenly split between those that stood out positively and those that ultimately revealed disjointed thoughts, arguments or logic.

The lesson you might take from my answer is to always be sure to put your strongest points and applications of your logic in the first one-third to the first half of your essay. Then be consistent in using good reasoning and congruent statements and examples in the back half of an essay to further the thesis laid out and points made in the first half.

DR. WALLACE: I get the same tired and awkward question numerous times, especially over the holidays: "Where is your boyfriend?"

I'm a 21-year-old straight female, and I don't have a boyfriend. I'm healthy, I have a good job and several great friends I hang out with regularly. To be honest, although I date a bit here and there, I don't know why I have a boyfriend right now. However, I do know that I am beyond tired of answering this question for every relative and family friend that wanders into a holiday "get together" at my parents' house.

Do you have a quick and snappy reply that I can have rehearsed to give them as an answer to their overbearing questions? I had a few nice boyfriends years ago in high school, but those relationships never bloomed any further. — So Tired of the Same Question, via email

SO TIRED OF THE SAME QUESTION: How about, "I thought you told me you were giving him a ride here tonight! Don't tell me you left him standing in the driveway when you drove off!"

Or you could say, "He's out there right now clearing his social schedule so that he can meet me soon, since I'm the woman of his dreams!"

In any case, I feel from your letter that you'd like to be a bit sassy or at least playful in your reply. But be careful not to sound like you're snapping back at the question, as you likely don't want to show that it bothers you at all. So, make any reply in a light tone of voice with a smile on your face. This approach will disarm even the most probing questioners. And at any point always feel free to say that even though you have a few candidates that you're interviewing, you'd be open to reviewing a few new resumes should they know of anyone who's potentially suitable.

I feel you have the right attitude. You're currently happy, focused on your good job and friends and when the time is right, your social life will likely change for the better. Good things usually come to those who are selective and don't force things.

Dr. Robert Wallace will answer questions from readers in this column. Email him at rwallace@galesburg.net.

React to this story:


Trending Video

Recommended for you