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Accepting Late Work

accepting late work

I’ve mentioned before that I have a few “series” I want to start writing to on this blog periodically.  One of the ones I am excited about is “Teaching Controversy.”  Especially as a secondary teacher, there are so many things that teachers debate over.  Curve tests, or not?  Allow re-takes, or not?  Provide study guides, or not?  This is because as secondary teachers we are in a tough position.  Over a four-year period in our classrooms, students are transitioning from being fresh out of middle school to being 18 years old, about to live on their own.  It is such an important time where life skills, critical thinking capabilities, and autonomy need to be cultivated if we want our students to be successful after graduation.  But how harsh is too harsh?  Where do we draw the line?  These issues can be tricky, which is why I want to open the door to discuss some of these controversial issues here.  I’d LOVE to hear your opinions because I definitely don’t feel like I have the perfect solution!

First I want to talk about accepting late work.  I’ve spent so much time thinking through this topic.  I’ve now taught at three different schools in my teaching career – all completely different in demographics and even geography.  I’ve been at a medium-sized rural public school.  I’ve been at a massive urban public school, with over half of the students living below the poverty line.   Currently, I am at a tiny, very wealthy private school in a resort town.  So although I have only been teaching for 4  years, I’ve taught over 500 different kids under 3 different principals with 3 very different ideologies. 

**PANDEMIC PREFACE: Before I go any further, I just want to make add a quick note that this blog post was written several years ago, prior to our current pandemic. If I was in the classroom right now, I would be handling EVERYTHING with an immense amount of grace and “open-handedness”, if you will. This is a seriously traumatic time for many of us and our students, so everything I normally do would be thrown out the window, with my primary focus being on loving my family AND my students well. Okay, back to the original post**

Now that you get my background, hopefully, that will help you understand my opinion on this.  I hate accepting late work.  It’s true.  Here are my reasons:

  1. We are trying to teach high schoolers to be responsible and take ownership for their education.  But yet we continually give them chance after chance to meet our expectations.
  2. It’s a pain in the you-know-where to grade late work.
  3. Fairness is one of my top priorities, which is why even when I grade tests, I grade them question by question, so I can ensure when I grade open response or essays that I am being consistent in the partial credit I give.  When you grade a student’s work later than the rest of the class, it is impossible to guarantee the same objectivity.  Personally I swing two directions if I accept late work – I am either extra harsh (because let’s be honest – I am annoyed I’m having to search back for the answer key I had out two weeks ago) or I am too easy on them, because I don’t have time to sit down and give them the thorough feedback I gave the first group.
  4. It isn’t fair to the students who turned it in on time because then they can’t get their graded work returned promptly.  If you do return it, you have no idea if the kid turning late work even did it themselves or just copied it.

I could go on and on.  But I think these 4 points are the most critical.  If I have learned anything over the last four years, too, it is that students will meet the expectations we set for them.  When we say we will accept late work, we are saying that we don’t expect them to be capable of turning things in on time.  When we say that, our students believe it.  That is not the kind of attitude I want my students to have going into college!

I will say, I am not a tyrant!  I do accept late work within a given unit.  Anything I collect and grade I will accept, with a small penalty, until the unit is over. I take 10% off every day it is late, capping the penalty at 50% off.  I will take late work up until the day of the unit test because of course, I want students to do the work so that they will learn the content – that is the whole point of assigning the work in the first place!  However, I haven’t found it beneficial for the students to allow them to turn in late work months after it was assigned (such as the last day of the semester for something assigned in August) because the quality is typically so poor and at this point, the students are just completing it for a grade rather than to actually learn the material. I also of course ALWAYS follow the accommodations written for students with IEPs or 504s.

The last thing I will say too is that I have VERY low expectations for what I assign and expect students to do outside of school.  I know my students have jobs, sports, family responsibilities, and other extracurriculars filling their plates, and I don’t want them to feel burdened any more than they already are.  I want them to enjoy my class and the learning process! 

Because of this, I only assign outside of classwork if I find it meaningful, beneficial, and necessary to their understanding of the content.  I also give them ample notice of when assignments are due so that they can practice time management skills and figure out the best time within their schedule to finish the work by the deadline.  This also helps to minimize the late work as a whole because students know that I respect their time, so they respect mine.  I have daily tutoring hours after school and during lunch to help any students and provide a quiet space for them to work if they need that prior to leaving school and going on to the rest of their responsibilities.  Since establishing these policies and this way of running my class, I have had less than a handful of students with chronic issues in regards to late work over the years.

Now I would LOVE to hear your thoughts – especially if you have a system that is fair and manageable for dealing with late work.  What do you do about late work?  Do you have a district or school policy you have to follow?  What’s your heart for it?  Can’t wait to hear what you think and learn from your experiences!

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