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.