Sunday, June 7, 2015

Who's Responsible?

This is a series of blog posts I hope to write over the summer to reflect on my first year as a 6th grade middle school language arts teacher.  Teaching is hard.  Reflecting on teaching is even harder.  Reflecting points out my mistakes and flaws, but encourages change; it highlights my successes, but motivates me to become better.

I am in a quandary, a dilemma, a state of confusion.  Hopefully writing about it will help me to think through the situation and find some answers.

As a first year middle school language arts teacher, I felt adapting was fairly easy, with one exception - the lack of effort or the lack of responsibility of students completing assignments on time.  It was common to have 20-25 students out of 100 to have missing assignments or late work.  In other classes, that number was even higher.  Regardless of the subject area, it was a common problem throughout the entire grade level.

I have read many articles and blog posts about teachers teaching responsibility and about assessing the learning or growth.  Unfortunately, reading them has left me with more questions than answers.

I know some of my students will not go on to college, but will be searching for jobs right out high school.  Being responsible is important in the workplace.  If they cannot be responsible now, how will they be 8 to 10 years from now?  Will they arrive for work on time?  Will they complete a task given to them?  These questions concern me and cause me to reflect on how I handled late or missing work.

So, here are the questions I am wrangling with and trying to answer so that I do not find myself in the same situation as last year.

Should students be penalized for late work?  If so, what should the penalty or consequence be?

Is learning the only significant outcome of the assignment?

Is it fair to those students who turn in work on time to give full credit to students who consistently turn in work late?  Is it fair to allow extra time?

If I do accept late work, should there be a time limit for turning in late work?

Am I enabling irresponsibility for not setting higher expectations?

Is it my job to teach responsibility when parents fail to do so?

I would love to have your insight on this situation.  My colleagues and I are discussing possible solutions to our problem, but I am just unsure of the right answer.

How do you handle late or missing work?


  1. Leigh Anne, These are really good questions! I've been teaching middle school for seven years now and I feel like my answers change. Here's where I am right now...I do accept late work with no grade penalty. I do have a cut off date, and that depends on the assignment. If possible, I found that if you make missing the assignment inconvenient for them, they are more likely to bring it in. What I mean is make that assignment part of the next class instruction. Make it meaningful to them and necessary to complete something bigger and more of them will complete it. If it's not completed, they don't get to participate in the next part because they need that assignment. (Is this making sense?) That works for me. Also, face to face talks with the students who aren't finishing their work on a regular basis helps me and them. If they know I notice that their work isn't finished, some of them don't like to disappoint me and will get it done.

    You asked if it's our responsibility to teach responsibility? I think it is. Talking about real life consequences and what happens when our work isn't done and explaining the "whys" of completing work has helped. I still have some students not complete work, but the number dwindles.

  2. Leigh Anne,
    I love Michelle's response and your questions. Teaching 5th grade my kiddos are edging into this behavior.

    The idea of responsibility in general is a sticky issue. While I don't believe in punishment, I do believe in consequences to action or inaction. IF you can build in a consequence that is a "natural" or "authentic" outcome of the behavior, I think you will teach responsibility and perhaps have better responses. I've always believed school is in many ways fairer than real life. By that I mean, in real life we don't get do-overs. We lose jobs, relationships, miss flights, buses, and lots worse if we don't take responsibility for our actions. Building in a series of outcomes to irresponsible and responsible behavior that scaffold toward responsibility and AGENCY should be a part of what we teach our students.

    Love your confusion and your thinking through writing.

  3. Leigh Anne,

    I am hoping to have my first 6th grade ELA class next year. I spent the entire last school year assisting in a 6th grade class. This school year I am substituting while I finish my Masters degree although I did get a 5 week stint as an ELA teacher in a 5th grade class. Your concerns are the ones I continue to wrangle with and I still don't have a good answer. Here are my own observations though:

    Things have changed a lot since I went to school. I had 3 hours of homework a night and you bet your life I did it. Many parents today either cannot or will not work with their kids on homework or even monitor homework activity. If the parents don't care - more than likely the kids won't care either. I found an amazing amount of apathy among students - mostly those from "stressed" family situations, e.g. poverty, single parent, no parents (being raised by other relative), abuse, neglect, drugs (by parent), incarceration (of one parent), violent death of parent (gang related). You might think I live in a city - I don't - I live in a rural community in the bible belt of Southern Virginia.

    There is a second set of kids - those who in my day were simply considered "behavior challenged" are now labeled with ADD, ADHD, etc. etc. These kids are on drugs to "manage" their behavior. The parents of these kids are generally concerned with what their kids are doing, but chalk up any failures to complete work to the student's "diagnosis."

    Finally, there is the third set of kids whose parents have decided that sports is more important than academics. The standard excuse from one of these students when they fail to turn in homework is "I had a game last night," or "I had practice last night," or "I had to go to my brother's or sister's game last night." The parents sanction this so little can be done.

    Now as to penalties. First, I found that threatening to mark down work if late did little to motivate those who didn't care anyway. Second, I found that the seasoned teachers did not believe in doing this because it simply lowered the grades of those students already at risk for failing (and the schools have wholeheartedly adopted the "no child left behind" motto, e.g. no child gets held back, ever. So - with that said - what do you do? After you subtract out those 3 groups of kids, you have about 25% of your class who (a) care, (b) are motivated, (c) have parental support, and (d) will always turn in work on time.

    I know I have not answered your question. But I continue to struggle with this and I am clueless as to what to do. Would love to have a workable strategy in place before I get my own classroom next year.

    You are in Indiana???