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Late Assignments | Teacher Talk

As the end of the school year draws near, many teachers and university faculty members are making decisions about late assignments. There are countless approaches to dealing with deadlines. Aside from the hard date of when we have to finalize grades at the end of the semester, teachers and faculty members have the academic freedom to determine their own policies for accepting – or not accepting – late work.

Larry Ferlazzo, an opinion contributor for Education Weekly, recently published ideas from teachers about how they handle late student work in two articles: Students Will Miss Deadlines. How Teachers Should Respond, and Late Assignments: Tips From Educators on Managing Them. These teacher insights inspired me to share my own philosophy about accepting late work, and I’m looking forward to hearing Gina Benz’s thoughts when we discuss this topic during the Teacher Talk radio segment on In the Moment with Lori Walsh. Here is my take:

I always accept late work.
I used to be the kind of teacher who thought that students needed to learn to adhere to deadlines, and then somewhere along the way, I just decided that wasn’t true. Adults miss deadlines all the time, for countless reasons. Work projects change, evolve, and are sometimes dropped entirely. There isn’t a “real world” that I am preparing students for that requires absolutely everything to be turned in on time. There is the reality of the end of the semester, which does require that I submit grades on a specific date. And so that clear deadline is the only one for which I hold my students accountable, and that is because I am also accountable for it.

I don’t deduct points for late assignments.
I do this because I don’t want to keep track of how late an assignment is. I know many who will penalize a grade by 10% for every day late, or uphold a similar policy. But I don’t want to do the math on that either. For me, I value the quality of the work that was submitted and if it demonstrates an understanding of the concepts that the students were asked to grasp. Because those are my values, I spend my time grading looking for student mastering and not calculating deductions for late submissions or counting how many days late an assignment was submitted.

I don’t make students ask for an extension.
I trust students to schedule and organize their lives in a way that allows them to complete their assignments on time. When they can’t do that for some reason – an emergency, an illness, family obligations, etc. – I understand that life happens like that. The consequence for unexpected life events is that the student now has to figure out how to complete the assignment after the deadline. Rather than emailing me to explain why they need an extension, I would rather they use that time to complete the assignment. I also don’t want to be the judge of what is a “good reason” for needing an extension to an assignment. I am not an arbiter on ethics or morality. I am simply the instructor for a course who makes a determination on whether or not the student has completed the coursework and demonstrates a mastery of the material. Plus, I often feel that making students ask for an extension invites students to invent “real” reasons for needing more time. And while it is sometimes fun to read those creative explanations, more often than not, I am disappointed by an obviously fictitious excuse.

Most students turn their work in on time.
Even with my relaxed approach to late student work, most of my students still turn in assignments on their scheduled due date. Those that don’t will still email me and ask for extensions and give thorough reasons for needing one. They apologize for submitting items late and understand if I need to deduct points for each day past the due date. They worry about their grades and what will impact their scores negatively. When I assure students that they don’t owe me an explanation for late assignments and can turn items in until two weeks before the end of the semester, they are often extremely relieved. My student feedback for my courses regularly includes comments about how they appreciate that I know they are humans with lives outside of my class.

As with all of my takes on Teacher Talk, I do not advocate that all teachers and faculty members employ the same method. Teaching is a human profession and we need a wide range of practices and policies to meet the needs of all students. I support all teachers implementing their own ways of doing things, as I am grateful that the teaching profession affords me the same prerogative.

The views and opinions expressed on Teacher Talk are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of South Dakota.

Jacqueline Wilber, Ed.D. is an experienced educator from South Dakota. She is currently a faculty member at the University of South Dakota and Director of the Center for Student and Professional Services in the School of Education.

She began her career in public schools in 2007 and has served as a teacher, librarian, and administrator. Jackie holds a Nebraska Teaching Certificate for 7-12 grade English/Language Arts, a Nebraska Public Library Certificate, and an Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher (e-RYT 500) credential through Yoga Alliance. She was a 2014 Sioux Falls School District Teacher of the Year Finalist.