When I was studying to become a teacher, long before I realized that working in a room full of hormonal teenagers was not worth having summers off, we had a discussion among the other prospective teachers in my class.
Some study had come out saying that teachers shouldn't use red ink because it gave students anxiety. This was before people called each other snowflakes, but I had to have raised an eyebrow to this statement.
Isn't that the whole point? Aren't we supposed to force students to learn through fear and intimidation? I remember my third grade teacher when I was a student at Our Lady of Perpetual Misery to this day. Not because of what I learned, although I assume I must have learned something because I can read and do simple fractions, but because of her being the image that comes to mind still whenever I see or hear the word "tyrant."
She used red ink to grade my homework. She also once flipped my desk upside down because I couldn't find my homework in my admittedly messy desk. And when I found my homework, she still marked it zero. She'd punish you if your neighbor was talking and you had to talk to tell them to be quiet.
She was our religion teacher, and might be the reason why I haven't been to church since I got confirmed.
This was past the age of nuns teaching us, so I don't even have the fun stories of the nuns hitting me with rulers, or that I'm really a lefty but they forced me to write with my right hand. She was just a woman from the community who caused great anxiety in me even before I turned 9.
A couple of years later, I learned that she was named the diocese's teacher of the year.
So I scoffed at our discussion. Red ink builds character! Puts hair on your chest! Makes you a strong patriotic American that Sam the Eagle and Johnny Tremain would be proud of.
But, I wanted to pass the class, graduate, and get a job with summers off and a pension, so I sucked it up.
Along with collecting fountain pens, I collect ink. There's a huge selection of colors available out there, some vibrant, others professional, some with sparkles and others with creative names. So I went out and bought a bottle of ink just for grading.
It's called Dragon's Napalm.
If kids are having anxiety over red ink, I thought, then this will give them a stroke. It's kind of red, sure, but it's also kind of orange, in the same way you can't tell if a tennis ball is really green or yellow. Oh, and it has glitter in it too.
I learned something once I finally became a teacher though.
The kids don't care.
There might be a few who are so high strung, especially in high school where the stakes are real, that red ink, even if it's a good grade, could push a button or two. But most of them looked at the grade, shrugged, and moved on with their lives. If any child was seriously kept awake at night because of red ink, then a school for the general population might not be the best place for them.
I've looked for that study, but I can't remember what it was. A Google search shows it comes up every few years in some sort of academic discourse, but none of them seem to be from actual teachers.
Kids don't need to be pampered. The most effective conversations I had with students were when I explained to them that school was their job, and that it was so important the entire community comes together to pay for it. That the foundation for their future was so important it was one of the largest chunks of their parent's tax bill.
Grade it in red ink, purple ink, put up the grade in a neon sign, lowly humming on their desk. They don't care. I don't care.
I don't remember what I got on any of my third grade report cards. Or on any of the standardized tests. But I do remember my teacher. And it's not fondly.