In the Classroom
The Trouble with Deadlines: Accountability in the Secondary and Post-Secondary Classroom
July 31, 2018
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Jeff Gray
@iteachushistory

When I was a junior in high school, my best friend and cousin finally succumbed to her lifelong battle with cystic fibrosis and died at the age of seventeen.  It was devastating for everyone in my family.  The morning after her death, I had a trigonometry exam.  The policy of the teacher – and all my teachers – was unless you have a doctor’s excuse, you were required to take an exam.  Since there was no doctor’s excuse, I came in that morning to take the exam.  Once I finished the exam, I left to aid in the preparation for the funeral.  There was no question I was going to take the exam.  It didn’t even dawn on me to try to get an extension as this was not a qualified excuse for missing the exam.  It was the expectation.

I bring this up to discuss a problem I’m seeing as I teach adjunct at the post-secondary level.  Each semester I have students (numerous students) who do not adhere to the “late work” policy stated in the syllabus and in class.  Now, I know that there have always been lackadaisical students.  This is not a new problem.  However, the sheer number of students who do not turn in work on time, and then ask – even beg – for grace without a documented excuse is, quite frankly, very high.  Most often I get that they forgot.  Invariably it comes with an assurance that they take the class and their education seriously, this is not “like” them, etc.…  For the record, I do not relent and always enforce the stated policy.  On a related note, very often this leads to rather hateful faculty evaluations.

I think that I’ve come to understand the major reason behind the post-secondary students’ lack of responsibility in meeting deadlines.  It comes from their experience in public schools at being allowed to turn in work whenever they wish, without repercussions.  As a public school teacher by day, I am just as guilty as any other teacher.  You see, public school teachers, while wanting to teach students to be responsible citizens, are ultimately held accountable for their learning through high-stakes testing.  So, teachers would rather the students do the work late and hope that the work still has value.  This would, again hopefully, mean the students do better on their tests.  Furthermore, there does come a time when a teacher realizes it’s not worth the fight with parents either.  So, what you end up with are far too many students who have never been held accountable for deadlines.  They assume the teacher/professor will continue to allow them to turn in work late without penalty.  And when that doesn’t happen, they are not sure how to handle the situation.  There are times in adult life when missing deadlines can have real and life-changing consequences.

Being on both sides of this problem, I see the conundrum quite clearly.  I want good scores from my public school students (and I’d just assume not have parents on my back), so I’m lax in enforcing my late-work policy.  Then, I get frustrated when my post-secondary students treat deadlines the same as my 8th graders, as suggestions.  I’m part of the problem.  I want to be part of the solution.

So, as we move into a new school year, I need some advice (if you will).  Here are questions at the public school level that need to be addressed:

  • What is your late-work policy? Do you hold them to it – every time? If so, how?  If not, why not?  Is there a balance that can be found?
  • Is there a certain age that one should hold students firmly to a late-work policy? If so, what is that age?
  • What are the repercussions in life if children are never held accountable for deadlines? Who is responsible for teaching that accountability?  What happens if that person does not teach accountability?

Jeff has taught 7th/8th grade social studies at Ridgeview Elementary School in Gray, Tennessee for the last eight years and adjunct professor for the Clemmer College of Education at East Tennessee State University for the last five years. In addition, he has taught 8th grade social studies and US History in five schools located in three different states. He also served as the American History Lead Teacher for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Throughout his twenty-three years as an educator, Jeff has served as Department Chair, AVID Coordinator, IBNA homofaber and Humanities Area Leader, Team Leader, and Principal designee, along with being FCA and Student Council sponsor. In addition, he has spent a great deal of time leading professional development opportunities for teachers throughout North America. Jeff received his Bachelor of Science degree in Political Science in 1989 and his Masters in Teaching in 1992, both from East Tennessee State University. He also serves as a Hope Street Group Tennessee Teacher Fellow, engaging his colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues.

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There is 1 comment

  • Al says:

    We just had this very conversation in our leadership meeting last week. We did not come up with an answer other than to enforce the school system policy for missing work due to absence.

    The elephant in the room that you talked about was left alone,

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