This post is late; there’s value in reading it anyway

So, one of the cool things about having my oldest in college is seeing things from the perspective of a parent as well as a professor.  For the most part, it has only confirmed my various convictions about how I do things, but it has definitely made me more aware than ever (and I already was decently good) on the price of textbooks, etc.

I’ve always had a policy where I allow late papers and tests, but, with a significant grade penalty.  Obviously, not having any grade penalty at all is like not having a deadline, so that’s a no-go.  And, there are, of course, professors who just don’t accept late assignments.  My thought has always been that, sure, some students will take advantage, but life intervenes and you just need to give people a break.  My deadlines are ultimately arbitrary and this is not life and death here.  So, my take was that because I’m a “nice” professor and because life is complicated, sure, I take late assignments.  And I never thought too much more about it than that.

Until, recently, though when said son had a professor refuse to accept any late assignments.  What really frustrated me about this was that I realized without doing the assignments, my son was simply not going to learn the material they were based upon nearly as well.  What’s the point of giving assignments as professors if we don’t think there’s really value in those assignments help the students learn the underlying material?!  By refusing to accept late assignments at all a professor is saying they think the goal of teaching the importance of following (ultimately, arbitrary) deadlines is more important that the goal of teaching the underlying course material.  That’s nuts.  I don’t question for a moment a professor’s prerogative in teaching their class this way, but I do think they are flat out making a mistake in privileging teaching deadlines over teaching the value of the course material.  Unless your class is “proper adult behavior, deadlines, and other real world stuff” your primary goal should be on students learning history, math, chemistry, etc.

So, in this case, my policy on lateness has not changed at all, but my rationale has.  I now accept assignments late not because I’m “nice,” but because I actually believe my assignments are important and help my students learn the course material and important research and writing skills.  And, yes, there’s still a late penalty because deadlines matter, they are just not the most important thing.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

4 Responses to This post is late; there’s value in reading it anyway

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    As a former high school and community college teacher, I completely agree with you. Over rigid professors – I wouldn’t want to take a social science or literature course from one.
    I wonder if the rigidity correlates with political views. 🙂

    • Steve Greene says:

      I didn’t know that about you– cool! My son has a different professor that definitely gets off on being a petty tyrant and exercising power in all sorts of small and pointless ways. I’d like to think these are a small minority.

      • R. Jenrette says:

        On the bright side, your son needs to have experience with rigid people too. Some adherence to the rules may not be a bad thing.

      • Steve Greene says:

        Yes, there’s value in that lesson, but there’s even more value in a non-zero grade :-). Arguably, that’s what the late penalty is for.

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