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Maintaining Firm Deadlines

I opened my QC email today and found this in my inbox with the subject line “Question”:

“Hi Professor, can you please change the date of the homework to April 3? I don’t think I will finish in time for the due date tomorrow. Thank you.” (Notice that the student didn’t even supply a reason.)

This happens to me several times a semester.  In my introductory Economics courses, I use an online learning suite called Sapling Learning to assign weekly exercises that reinforce our discussions.  I even assign a hefty 20% of the final grade to the online homework to give them a stronger incentive to do it, and do it well.  Every semester, I set the homework deadlines to coincide with our lecture schedule.  All of the assignments are open to the students well in advance, and I urge them repeatedly to try to do the homework well before the due date so as not to find themselves anxiously trying to beat the clock at the last minute.  Of course, most of them don’t heed this advice.

By the end of the semester, they will have completed 12 or so graded assignments.  In my syllabus, I mention that two of the lowest assignment scores are automatically dropped to allow for extenuating circumstances that might prevent them from doing the homework.  So when I get emails like the one above, I simply remind them that they have an expendable assignment or two.  This unburdens me from having to weed out legitimate reasons from “my dog ate my homework”.

Another email I got in a previous semester reads thus:

“He professor can you please extend homework number 10 to tonight or tomorrow. Everyone has a lot going on this week. Thanks. [sic]” (emphasis is mine)

First off, I was turned off with the carelessness with which this note was written. Second, how dare they bring “everyone” into this? It’s funny how some students will complain or make a request as though they were elected to speak for the entire class.  This is how I responded:

“You have two automatically dropped assignments for any and ALL extenuating circumstances. As stated in the syllabus, homework deadlines are firm deadlines. Part of what you learn in college is time management. We all have a lot going on this week. Life will not wait for you. Your future employers may be lenient with deadlines if you are lucky, but chances are that they won’t be. Learn from your mistakes and move on.”

Maybe my note sounded callous, but someone has to deliver this message.  We all need to learn to put our foot down and be firm as educators.  When I first started teaching, I tried to entertain requests like these, and I quickly found that students tend to abuse such kindness.  These days, I simply remind myself that coddling them will not help them in the long run.

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3 comments to Maintaining Firm Deadlines

  • I agree Jared that we have to maintain deadlines. We are doing a disservice to our students if we do not hold them accountable. When they leave school and work in their professions, they will need to complete tasks on time.

    Getting into the habit of procrastinating is not good training for the real world. True, some students will not be happy with you in the short run, but may acknowledge that it set them up for success when they graduate.

  • Uday Madaan


    This may seem a bit harsh, but in the first class of the semester I let it be known that I will not reply to emails that I should not be receiving. This includes asking for extensions for assignments the night or two days before its due. The only exception is medical emergencies which require full documentation. For the large part the students never send me frivolous emails once they know I won’t respond to these types of plea bargains.

  • Raymond E. Skrabut

    I, too, believe in firm deadlines. In the syllabus (handed out on the first day and also posted to Blackboard), there are firm due dates and times for every written assignment with a proviso: any assignment not handed in on time will lose half a letter grade.

    Here’s how it works: students email me the assignment by 11:59 PM on a due date. I chose 11:59 PM because -that’s right- 12:00 is now the next day. I caution the students not to click on “Send” at 11:59 PM, because there is no telling how fast or slow their email carrier or ISP. Reminders of the due date/time are given in class and via email.