Yeah, I’ll admit it; my semester hasn’t been all puppies and rainbows.
I’ve been a lot more casual with my students this semester. My classes have been smaller and, partly because of the more intimate environment that smaller classes encourage, I’ve been a little lax in my usual strict policies. I’ve let students hand things in late – in some cases, very late – and I’ve been willing to give a little more credit for in-class work and participation than I probably should.
Now, I’m getting to live out the consequences of that laxity. I remember my graduate school adviser warning me that, as far as classroom policy goes, “it’s easier to loosen up than to tighten up,” and he’s right – though I wonder how much loosening up is ever a good idea. Anyway, I announced to my all of students, after the mid-term, that the second half of the semester would see the reinstatement of the policies outlined in the syllabus: late work won’t be accepted, being absent doesn’t excuse one from responsibility for the work for that day, and failure to focus during class time will result in reduced credit (or outright expulsion) from the class.
After I plugged in all the zeros that my literature students have earned for not turning in their work (of the eight kids I’ve got in the class, only half of them actually turned in mid terms, for example), fully half of them are failing. I told them yesterday that, if they emailed me to ask what they were missing (though they should KNOW), I would check my grade book, give them their list, and would accept their work no later than this coming Tuesday. After that, I said, I wasn’t taking anything in late.
Only one of them has emailed me, and she isn’t among the students in the greatest danger of having to retake this class again next semester.
This is a valuable lesson for me. I really do think it’s better – and more fair to everyone – that I start and maintain very clear, very firm policies about the work we do in my classes. Students who aren’t going to do the work anyway won’t do it whether I’m a hard-ass about it or not, and knowing that I’ve been fair and consistent from the outset will reduce a lot of MY stress, too.