Late Work Part II
After writing part one, I found myself looking at the issue from the perspective of a student. I know that both in high school and college, I failed to turn in assginments. Some teachers said, "Sorry, you know my policy." I accepted it. I never complained to the teacher that the policy was unfair, and never even thought that my grade inaccurately reflected my learning. One class in particular comes to mind. English Literature I. I have never been fond of the old English Literature, and when I took the class in college, my dislike for the content overrode my appreciation for the professor, Julia Young--a great woman, and the only person in the Pacific Northwest I allowed to call me by my childhood name of Andy.
I earned a C+ in that class because I chose not to do all of the reading and missed a couple of assignments. I never felt the need to go to Professor Young and ask to turn the work in late. But I knew that a C+ did not reflect my ability and understanding. Was I wronged? I don' think so. When the next opportunity to show my understanding came, English Literature II, I did the work and earned an A.
Why do today's students need us to coddle them, give them chance after chance. The no late work policy has worked for years. What has changed? Is the sole purpose of a grade to reflect the content learning, or is it meant to reflect, also, something of the whole student?
The second view we mus consider is that of the responsible student. The one who will turn the work in on time. I know that, in high school, if a teacher allowed late work, I would have taken advantage. But I knew students who would have been greatly annoyed that I earned an A without turning in assignments on time while they earned a B with all assignments turned in on time. Would a policy that allows late work be unfair to the student who does his assignments on time?
I wonder about the real world that we teachers often refer to. Let's take two builders. They both are building a house, and are given a deadline of two months by the local community. The first builder finishes the house on time and sells the house for $300,000. The second builder runs into some complications and can't finish on time. He takes an extra two weeks. But that house sells for $400,000. What is the consequence? Nothing. The community accepts the late work because it will raise property values more than the $300,000 house.
Ulitmately, does fairness matter in education. Well, for public education fairness does matter. Every kid deserves the same treatment under the law. But it is not as if one student is not recieving a benefit that the other is recieving, so does this fall under true unfairness?
The final issue in fairness relates to us, the teacher. Is it fair to a teacher to have to accept assignments whenever a student decides she is ready? We have the monumental task of teaching a large number of skills in 182 days. Our assignments, especially culminating assignments, serve to let us know that the time has come to move on to the next skill. How can we move on if we don't know where students are along the continuum? The differentiated instruction camps will tell us that we have to teach to the individuals wherever they are. But I am not that good. I can't teach to a group of 15, a group of 10, a group of 5, and a group of 2 at the same time. When we get right down to it, we really don't have a whole lot of time to accomplish this. We feel compelled to keep every student busy at all time. How do we do this? And ulitmately, does $40,000 compensate enough for such a task. I made that much as a bartender for a chain restaurant--and believe me, that is not nearly as challenging as teaching.
In trying to compare this aspect of fairness to the real world that exists outside of education, there really isn't anything to compare it to. No other job in the world meets with 150 clients everyday. The lack of comparision means that we don't have much to draw from in terms of solving the shadow issues.