Recently I observed a student turn in a writing assignment to my colleague. The assignment was late. My colleague accepted the assignment with a very gracious (and sincere) smile and a couple of questions.
She asked the student, “Did you get it done the way you wanted? Are you satisfied with it?”
“Oh yes!” she responded. “I’m much happier with it now. Thank you for the extra time.”
I’ve worked with others who would response to this scenario would have been either to not accept the late work or to accept it with a reduction in points, credit, or grade—and also making sure the student felt a certain amount of shame or guilt for not meeting an assignment deadline. “Accountability.” he or she would argue. “How will students learn to meet deadlines and be accountable?”
From my perspective, the former’s approach establishes the teacher as the advocate of the student’s learning and the latter establishes the teacher as the adversary. The cynic might argue that the former is an enabler and the latter is pushing the students to achieve their best. I’m not sure they are mutually exclusive.
Which would you prefer as a response if you were the student, or if it was your own child? I personally would prefer the setting where the student is encouraged (enabled?) and supported to complete a task to the highest of his or her ability, completing work they have pride in—not just by a seemingly arbitrary deadline. Of course, as an advocate you also need to recognize dangerous procrastination that detracts from learning, and hold to the deadlines that aren’t arbitrary.
But, if you have established a culture of advocacy as opposed to one of adversary, then the struggles the student might have and the problems they will have to solve will be focused energy on understanding the content of the curriculum, not the teacher. And then the “tough love” sometimes required won’t feel personal or arbitrary from the student’s perspective.
So, are you your students’ advocate or adversary?