Solving The Late Work Problem

Solving The Late Work Problem

“A student slaves from dusk till dawn, but a teacher’s work is never done.”

Okay, I made that one up, but it sounds good…right? Our society counts “busy” as a virtue. And teachers are busy. So working in a classroom must put us all up front for those shiny halos.

We teachers work hard, and it seems like we are never finished. There are engaging lessons to plan, constant administrative tasks to complete, hundreds of parents to call and email, avalanches of papers to grade…and just when we finish and feel like we can finally breathe for a minute, we are bombarded with it.

It generally comes on a pleasant evening when we are feeling particularly accomplished. It always comes after we have updated our grade books. We are usually enjoying a movie or a quiet dinner with our family when the push notifications begin emanating from our digital devices.

We glance at the notifications and begin to feel overwhelmed all over again. Students are posting late assignments with accompanying comments, such as, “Oops, I forgot to hit turn in,” or “I was really busy, and I forgot to do this.”

And because we want to be “noble,” we are taken in. We allow ourselves to fall behind yet again by adding late work to tomorrow’s to-do list, which is already a mile long.

In the past, I (like many teachers) have taken it upon myself to add late work to my already lengthy list for four reasons:

1. I want my students to succeed. Life happens to everyone. We all get overwhelmed and forget. We all have to make cost/benefit choices with our time. We all have unexpected emergencies. A zero can make a big difference in the grade book, and we want to give our students a second chance.

2. I want my students to learn the content and develop the skills I am trying to teach them with that particular assignment. We all really want this as teachers. So it’s hard for us to say, “Oh, well, that zero’s sticking around,” when we really want for them to learn the material the assignment teaches.

3. I don’t want my students to give up. A string of zeros can make it difficult to bring a grade up to passing. Students will not develop a growth mindset if there is not a chance they can pass. They will simply stop trying. This is when disillusionment and behavior problems set in.

4. I want the parents on my side. If we don’t have parental support, our job becomes infinitely harder. Parents want the best for their children, and they need to see that we have the best in mind for them, as well. None of us wants to be the rigid task-master who will not give a child a second chance.

So it always seemed to me that late work was a necessary evil–one more unending task to add to our unending list. Isn’t being “noble” being “busy”?

Then a new teacher came to work at my school.
Solving The Late Work Problem
She was young. She had graduated from that high school the same year I first came to teach there. She had this policy that I thought would never work for me. But then, one year, I became so frustrated with never being caught up and never having a clear picture of where the students stood, that I decided to give her method a try.

It’s very simple, and it has improved my classroom management and instruction, and above all, my quality of life. Are you ready for it? Here it is:

I don’t take late work.

That’s it. It’s not more complicated than that. I don’t take late work.

It’s liberating, it’s in my syllabus, and I don’t explain it any further.

Of course, an IEP or 504 will ALWAYS trump my classroom policies–I would never ignore those.

But here is how my policy works:

-I don’t take late work.
-Every week, students have the opportunity to take a bonus quiz over the content we learned the previous week. They can earn five bonus points to boost their grade. I put the topics we will be covering each week on our class calendar so that they know what to study (in case they weren’t paying attention in class).

This simple policy works because it satisfies all four reasons I took late work in the first place:

1. I want my students to succeed. Part of being successful is being responsible. Responsibility entails following through on obligations, including meeting deadlines and accepting the outcome of not doing so.

2. I want my students to learn the content and develop the skills I am trying to teach them with that particular assignment. The bonus quiz encourages them to do just that. You have to make the quiz and grade the quiz, but you’re not constantly backtracking. Class is moving forward (and so is your life).

3. I don’t want my students to give up. Again, enter the bonus quiz. They are learning content and adding points to their grade. The zero doesn’t go away, but the extra points help mitigate it. Consequences and growth in one neat package.

4. I want the parents on my side. The zeros that don’t go away are enough to remind parents how many times their student has neglected assignments. We are all busy–any one of us could forget that the 85 on that assignment was once a “missing.” But that zero is a constant reminder. This can contribute to a decrease in missing assignments. And again, the bonus quiz gives their student a chance to atone–every parent wants that for their child.

This simple policy for handling late work was brought to me by a wise, young teacher. She told me about it a few years before I decided to try it–I couldn’t get past my four reasons for taking late work. I thought I was being noble for having an unending to do list.

It turns out, I don’t have to work as hard as I thought. The system doesn’t implode.

What are your policies on late work? Leave a comment, and let me know!

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