Higher Education?

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I know college costs too much–not my fault. Anybody who sees my paycheck can tell you that. I know community college is often seen as pseudo-higher education–I have no control over people’s perceptions. I only know that I will continue to hold my students to a high, but reachable, standard. I know some instructors do not expect college-level work from their students–I’m not one of them. I know some advisors and administrators sincerely feel sorry for those with difficult life situations that often interfere with student success. I understand. I empathize with them as well. However, I can’t allow that to affect my judgement. I cannot, repeat cannot, let any of these considerations interfere with my assessment of students’ performance in my class.

To do so would be unethical.

Consider this: Let’s say I’m teaching a fully online foundational English composition course to a first-semester freshman. The student sends an e-mail the night the first major essay is due and says that they will not be submitting the assignment on time because they were working a double shift and were too worn out and sleepy to turn in their best work, so they are requesting, very politely, an extension.

Some people would say, “Oh, come on, give the kid a break!”

I say the kindest thing to do is, as gently as possible, deny the extension. Why? Because….

  • I accept late work that carries a significant grade penalty, allowing the student to begin to learn important soft skills while still salvaging their grade.
  • the student may begin to understand that in the “real” world, people are expected to meet deadlines
  • the penalty stings enough to begin teaching the student a valuable lesson about time management
  • the student may learn that making excuses and blaming circumstances are only short-term solutions
  • the student has a better chance of developing a growth mindset, learning from their mistakes and becoming not only a better student but also a better person.

It is true that denying any student anything nowadays carries with it certain risks. There is always the chance that the student, or the student’s parent, will complain, not to me, an instructor with no tenure and little power, but to one of my many supervisors, saying that I am being unreasonable and that I should not only accept late work for assignments that students have known about for weeks or even months but that I should also award points for punctuality to an essay that was not turned in on time.

But I am willing to assume that risk for the student’s sake. I learned long ago that enabling students only helps make my life and the lives of my bosses easier. It does nothing to truly help the student or to foster the higher education that my college claims to provide.

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