education, grades, grading, high school, learners, scoring, students, teachers, teaching

Amending My Late Work Policy…Because Learning Rules

Since my first year of teaching I have not had a late work policy. I have allowed students to turn in work up until the last day of the marking period without penalty. (The goal with this philosophy is as follows: It takes some students longer to learn material and therefore if they do the work eventually, it should be counted. Also, in the real world, deadlines can be negotiable. And don’t pretend like that’s not true. How many times have you said to your boss “I need more time” and he or she has acquiesced to your request?) I liked this philosophy because it felt very “real world”-esque and isn’t that what I’m preparing my students for? (Well, back to this idea in a minute…)

Ultimately, I have decided that my late work policy needs some serious amending–for a few reasons. First, some students copy their work from a classmate after I have handed it back, which, in the end, doesn’t give me an accurate picture of what they know and are able to do. Second, some students forget about the work and don’t care until they see their (usually very low) grade and THEN they decide they need to do something about it (instead of learning the material in the moment, when the learning is needed). This forces them to care about their grade as opposed to their learning. Third, I get a slew of papers handed to me at the end of the marking period and I become inundated with work to grade that should have been handed in–and handed back–a month earlier and my other responsibilities (such as planning and prepping upcoming lessons) suffer.

Here’s my new idea. My students’ assignments will all have a due date and a deadline date. If students hand in their work on the due date, they will receive all the credit they earned on the assignment–usually determined by an answer key or rubric. Then, those who did not hand it in when it was due, will have a 3-day grace period in which they can still hand in their work–although for reduced (earned) credit. After the deadline date passes, the work will no longer be accepted and will result in the score of a zero. There are, of course, amendments to this policy for students who are absent or have extenuating circumstances.

Here’s the goal concerning this new philosophy: First, please understand that I don’t have students complete assignments for no reason. If there is something that has to be done, it has a purpose and it is relevant, which means I need the students to complete it in a timely manner so I can offer them feedback and determine if they need help. Second, it reduces copying answers from a classmate for credit. By the time I hand back the papers, the grace period is over and the deadline date has arrived. Third, it eliminates the end-of-the-marking-period burden of speed grading for no other reason than to help students recover credit–as opposed to truly offering pointed feedback for learning. Fourth, it emphasizes timeliness and responsibility.

Here are my difficulties with it: It’s not very realistic and it doesn’t give me–or those looking at the student’s performance in class–an accurate depiction of that student’s academic capabilities.

Here is how I justify these things: First, I (and most teachers around the country) work within a system that supports amalgamated grades. If we graded based on separate standards or academic and behavioral skills, I’d reconsider the policy. But until that day comes, I can’t wish we had disaggregated grades because we don’t. (And I can’t work within a wishful philosophy, because it’s actually an injustice to my students and to myself.) The other issue I have with the new late work policy is that it is not realistic (within the post-high school world). There have been many times I have asked a superior for more time to complete a project or to compile data. More often than not I am granted that extension without penalty. And think about it, so many people miss deadlines without penalties as well: new iPhone software creators, mortgage commitment brokers, and real estate closing attorneys. How many times have you missed the deadline for renewing your car registration or driver’s license? Heck, even your mail arrives late some days! But high school is not the real world. It is high school. It’s a different animal that is confined by timelines and due dates. The days go on and so does the curriculum, and there’s not a lot of flexibility when it comes to deadlines and timeliness.

I do my best to prepare my students for what they will encounter after high school, but I realized I’m actually hurting them by allowing them to hand in work weeks–and even months–late. I’m showing them that the assignments and their timeliness are irrelevant, when in fact, the opposite is true. I want a clear picture of what my students know and are able to do at a particular moment in time, and I want to be able to give them feedback on that work that is relevant and helpful. If I allow them to hand in work after deadline and only “grade” it for credit, I send the message that “grades rule”, when in fact, learning does.  


Do Teachers Need Secretaries?

Teachers, have you ever wished you had a secretary?  Someone to send and answer emails, format your SGOs, PDPs, and LPs? Someone to make your copies, put up your bulletin boards, file your papers, maintain your materials, download updates onto your computer, put in tech requests, hang your posters, laminate your anchor charts, plug your grades into the grade book, type up and send out the minutes from your PLC meetings, take messages from parents, set up parent teacher conference times, coordinate field trip schedules and transportation, administer standardized tests, collect student data, clean and reorganize your classroom at the end of the day, take attendance, keep track of weekly, monthly, quarterly, and semester attendance logs, organize absentee work, follow up on class cuts, write up referrals, put in daily announcements to the office, write out book receipts, check your voicemail…

Yes!  That would be perfect!

And after all of that is taken care of you can grade papers, create and write lessons, analyze data, talk with parents, participate in professional development, build relationships with your students—and of course—teach!

But, it’s never going to happen. Teachers will never have secretaries, and will go on having to do the above tasks regardless of the fact that they have very little to do with direct interaction with students.  But this is the reality of what teachers do every day and here are some suggestions concerning how to combat all the paper work teachers encounter regularly.  Below are a few things teachers can do to make life easier since they don’t have—and will never have—a secretary.

  • Save electronic copies of everything from year to year.  Then, replace what you did last year with new material so formatting stays the same. The same goes for referrals, announcements, and book receipts.  Type in all the information that does not change, print out the documents, then write in new information; that way, half the work is already done.
  • Make copies early in the morning or after school.  Give up some time to make life a little less stressful.  Or, buddy up with another teacher and share the copying as well as the great worksheets and lessons being copied.
  • Have your students make a bulletin board that interests them, or give them your idea and have them run with it.  Make it part of your class.  Early finishers can help during the day and students staying after school for after care, detention, or extra help can assist too. The same goes for filing papers, maintaining materials, hanging posters, and cleaning and reorganizing the classroom (which students can also do right before they leave your room).
  • Install downloads on your computer at the end of the day, then restart the device before you leave for the day.  Updates will be ready to go the next morning.
  • Tech requests only take a moment.  Keep them short and sweet.  The tech guys like that.
  • Putting grades into the grade book can be tedious sometimes, but try to keep up with it two or three times a week. (Some teachers even input grades at the end of every day.)  Then it doesn’t seem so arduous. Plus, view this as a professional development opportunity.  Look at the data you are collecting and make some quick analyses about it.
  • All teachers share recording responsibilities at meetings.  Take handwritten notes and take a picture of them.  Then text or email them out to your colleagues. No need to type them up again.
  • Voicemails, messages, and parent-teacher conferences are unavoidable—and necessary.  Here is how to make it easier.  Send emails or make phone calls frequently to those parents who need it.  If something important, pressing, or serious comes up and a conference is needed, ask your principal or VP to set up an appointment so all parties can talk.
  • Take attendance during the Do Now on a clipboard as you walk around. Greet each student and mark them present after you have spoken to them.  That way you have interacted with each of them, offered help if it is needed, and you have taken attendance.  Keep a written record or an electronic record.  Save all work.
  • An extra papers basket is great for students who were absent.  So are folders categorized by day or period. Put extra copies into these folders and have students get the copies they need when they come back.
  • Following up on class cuts or students who were absent is just a part of the job. Do your best to fit it in.  You’re ultimately helping the student by finding out why they are cutting your class and you can hopefully come to a solution.
  • Proctoring standardized tests is tough.  You can’t do work, catch up on anything, use your computer or your smart phone.  Take the time then to see what each student is doing.  Look for general strengths and weaknesses and use that information to inform your practice.
  • Field trip coordination is time consuming, but for this one…just do it. The ends will justify the means.

Teachers will always be inundated with work.  In fact, most working adults are swamped with tasks that do not necessarily relate to their career of choice, but, remember, those duties are all part of the job. As long as teachers remember that everything they do is for their students—even menial tasks that seem to have little meaning—it makes life a bit easier.  You are here to teach, teachers.  And teach you will.  Because you love it.  We all know you do.