This tweet from Jenn Mallette crossed my feed the other day:
I think my soapbox for the semester is going to be pointing out ways the classroom is not the workplace and how super strict late policies harm students and undermine learning.— Jenn Mallette (@jenniechris) August 29, 2019
As someone who teaches journalism and, as such, has some strict late policies, it would have been easy to react defensively on this tweet. Instead, it energized me. I love people who get me thinking more deeply about my pedagogical strategies. One of the worst things we can do as professors is blindly do things we’ve always done, or cling to our beliefs about how things should be. It doesn’t mean changing all the time, but we should have reasons for what we do and we should explain those reasons to our students.
So, my late policy in my journalism skills classes is this:
If an assignment is late, it automatically receives a failing grade.
This, on its face, looks like the kind of super strict late policy Jenn was tweeting about. I make no apologies for this. The fact is, my students are going to work in media in some form or fashion. Many of them are going to work in the news and sports media. Deadlines are a part of your daily life. I tell them on the first day of class, that if I ever missed a deadline as a reporter, I’d have been fired. If we view college as preparation for the workplace — especially in a discipline like journalism, which is much more of a pre-professional program than others on campus - then it is vital that students learn the importance of hitting deadlines.
So yes, if a student is late on an assignment, they receive a failing grade.
Well … there are caveats:
I give A LOT of assignments
In my skills classes, students do anywhere from 6-10 regular assignments. What this does is it lessens the impact of one bad grade on any one assignment. Blowing one deadline doesn’t mean you will fail the class. It, I hope, takes the pressure off each individual assignment.
Students are encouraged to turn in assignments late.
My grades are done on a number scale (students get an 85 on an assignment, not a B). I tell my students that if you are going to miss a deadline, don’t blow off the assignment. Turn it in anyway. It won’t pass. But it will get points. Getting a 50 on an assignment because it’s late is not good, but it is WAY better than the 0 that comes from not turning it at all. In terms of grading, again, this lessens the impact of missing a deadline on a student’s overall grade. There’s a consequence, but it is by no means dire.
More importantly, I want students to do the work. I want them to learn and understand that the value of the course doesn’t come from the grade they get but from the work they produce. Doing the assignment, learning the skills involved, getting practice — that’s what we’re here for.
Students are allowed to ask for extensions.
That anecdote I told earlier about how I’d get fired for missing a deadline? Yeah, that’s bull. The first time a baseball game goes into extra innings, you realize that even newspaper deadlines are not always strict.
The fact is, life happens. You get sick. A family member gets sick. Your car breaks down. A roommate has a breakdown and you need to be there with them. Your boss calls you in for three extra shifts. Sometimes, an assignment is hard and tricky and you can’t break it. Sometimes sources don’t call you back. Sometimes, life just overwhelms you.
So I tell my students that they are always allowed to ask for extensions.
Now, these extensions are granted at my discretion. If a student asks for one all the time, I’m going to be leery and have a conversation. But for the most part, I grant them. Again, the point is doing the work, not an artificial deadline I established at the start of the semester.
The lesson I want my students to learn is to communicate with their editors, their news directors. We like to fetishize the hard-ass boss in journalism, but the fact is that every time I had something come up in my life that made work challenging, every editor I had listened and was empathetic and did what they could to help. It was when I didn’t speak up, when I didn’t communicate, that problems would arise.
The point of deadlines in my class is to teach the students about being journalists in the real world.
But there is more to being a journalist than just hitting deadlines. There’s doing the work. There’s communicating. There’s empathy and understanding.
Which, I hope, is the place where my deadline policy comes from.