I'm a teacher, not a police officer - Room 213

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I'm a teacher, not a police officer

Well, obviously.  However, looking back over my evolution in the classroom, I know that I've spent too many years wearing the wrong hat.  I was policing.  I was giving out "tickets" for late assignments, for homework not completed, for work that was not up to par.  The tickets, of course, took the form of mark deductions, late penalties that were meant to keep my students in line. They were punishments, not the teaching tools I believed them to be.

Then, we were told by our district that we could no longer deduct marks for late assignments.  We could no longer assign a zero for mark not handed in. Uproar ensued.

"If there's no penalty for late work, students will pass assignments in whenever they please!"

"We will get a stack of work at the end of the semester and be overwhelmed with marking!"

"Aren't we supposed to teach them work habits??"

My voice was there, loudly protesting with the rest.  But then, a funny thing happened. When I stopped policing "bad student behaviour",  I started to do a better job of teaching them.   And, yes, some students do slack off and not get assignments in on time--or done--but they are the same students who didn't do it when we took marks off for lates. I've also come to realize that a good number of them really aren't motivated by marks, which is actually a pretty poor motivation anyway.

My job is to teach my students how to think and learn and improve.  I can't do that by crossing my arms, wagging my finger and saying, "Sorry.  You're too late.  Sucks to be you."  That was my approach for far too long, and since I changed it, I am so much happier as a teacher.  I still set due dates and make a big deal of them.  But I also teach and model the fine art of time management and organization.  I do a lot more formative assessment, and allow students to redo assignments if they want to.  I used to avoid this practice for fear of being overwhelmed with marking, but I've come up with a good system for managing it.  Plus, when you see students improve after taking your feedback,  it feels pretty good.  And isn't that our ultimate goal?  That students get better at what we want them to do?

Watch for a further post on how I manage my new system and feel free to leave comments below.  I know this is a very controversial topic, but I sure love a good debate!



6 comments

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. So, when I was student teaching, I let students revise any assignment if they had turned it in on time. Basically, a student could go back and incorporate peer and teacher feedback and make every assignment better and brighter. Somewhere along the line, I lost that optimism. I, too, worried (and worry) about having too much marking at the end of the semester. I am excited to see your next post on how you manage it.

    Best,
    -Danielle @ Nouvelle

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  3. One side of me says "If we just allow work whenever, what the point of due dates? And then am I teaching them that due dates for things like the electric bill don't matter?" The other side of me says "I want them to learn the concept no matte how long it takes." I haven't been able to find a compromise. I think I might pose this topic to my 8th graders and see what they say!

    -Lisa
    Mrs. Spangler in the Middle

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  4. I'm totally with you, Lisa. I fought that battle with myself for years. However, once I decided to switch over to the dark side and get a little more relaxed (it was a battle), I found that there was not a big change. The kids who were slack were still slack, but vast majority still adhered to the due dates. The only difference was that the ones who were allowed to pass things in late were learning more. I log the idea of asking your students!

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  5. When I was in high school, our computer teacher had a similar policy. We could turn in any assignment, fix any assignment for a better grade. She theorized that if we were willing to do the work, than she would be too.

    I think I ended up with an A+ in the class, which I didn't deserve. I fixed every tiny error, redid assignments, and on. BUT - I didn't really learn anything. For instance, we had to do a letter assignment where we had to schedule different recipients' addresses. I couldn't remember how to do it (it had been taught months ago), so I just typed the letters out with different addresses. I was focused on the grade, not learning.

    Sorry for the long story. It gave me two thoughts though. One, like you said, students are probably going to continue as they were before. I found a way to get a good grade, like I probably would have with any other system. Two, I think I would have learned more with some boundaries.

    I like the idea of not being a police officer, because you are correct - that it isn't our job. (I once took off points for not having names on papers, but stopped that after my first year). I also see Mrs. Spangler's points. There are due dates in life. I don't know the right answer.

    My last question is - what do you do about quarters and semester grades? Is Canada set up the same as many schools in the USA? For instance, at my old school, once the quarter was over, I couldn't allow students to change their work - I had already given them the grade.

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  6. Lauralee, our marks are cumulative, so even though we give midterm marks for report cards, they aren't set in stone until the very end of the semester. Also, any formative marks I give are for feedback only and aren't counted in the average. Our online grading system allows us to mark assignments as formative or summative with formative not counted as a mark. It took parents awhile to get used to that but they like it now.

    I do have some tricks for the issue you brought up about fixing errors but not learning anything. My post should be ready soon!

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