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nikipedia's avatar

Is one purpose of school to teach students how to be reliable and responsible?

Asked by nikipedia (27526points) October 12th, 2009

I am teaching intro biology to 90 students. All of the other teaching assistants have strict policies about being on time for class and never accepting assignments late for any reason.

I don’t really care if my students show up on time. If they miss something I say in the first five minutes of class, it’s a bummer for them, but I don’t see any point in telling them not to bother coming if they’re going to be late. This seems to run counter to the point of education.

Similarly, I have had a couple students forget to turn in assignments before leaving the classroom. I have no problem with them dropping them off the next day. I saw the students and know they were actually in class; they just didn’t physically hand me the paper. One of the other teaching assistants had this exact situation come up and is giving her student a zero. I don’t see any reason not to just take the assignment as soon as the student can get it to me.

Am I doing the students a disservice by being too soft on them? Should I be enforcing more rigorous standards? Am I supposed to be teaching them to be responsible and accountable? Can’t I just teach them biology?

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34 Answers

DarkScribe's avatar

Yes, you are doing them a disservice. You are showing them that they can “skate” on obligations and get away with it.

Karandr's avatar

It depends how old your students are. Since you said biology, I’m going to assume these aren’t young kids. You should discipline them if they’re late only because it will benefit them and your colleagues. If a kid gets away with it in your class, your colleagues are going to have a hard time with the kids.

nikipedia's avatar

@Karandr: They are predominantly college freshmen.

ragingloli's avatar

prioritise them when you ask questions to solve.

Karandr's avatar

In that case, I’d stay strict, especially with assignments. In college, you hand in an assignment late you get a bad mark for it. In a job, if you consistently miss deadlines you could be fired.

tinyfaery's avatar

Once you set the rules you have to enforce them. Luckily, you set the rules. Tell them papers have to be handed in by x day and x time. If some
want to hand it in in class good. Others might take it to your office(?).

The only way you can do a disservice is by reneging on the rules you do set-up. Kids need to learn they have responsibilities, but they also need to learn that different people will have different expectations.

Some TAs go on a power trip. If you’re more flexible, great. You’ll be the one people like.

Jeruba's avatar

The main function of public school is to churn out good citizens and staff the workforce. Well-trained workers have to be on time. In college I think it’s a different set of lessons and students have to learn to be responsible for themselves. As long as latecomers are not disturbing or annoying people who took the trouble and showed the respect to turn up on time, I’d say the consequences of missing something should suffice. Do you make it a point to deliver important information at the beginning of the class? If you stall a little for them and help them catch up, I’d consider that discourteous toward the people who were punctual. The exact same issues will arise in the workplace with laggers who come late to meetings.

LKidKyle1985's avatar

I dunno, the thing about handing in an assignment late, (if its graded on content and not just completion) is it gives someone else more time to finish an assignment, and the more time you have the better you can make it, thus putting the students who did turn it in on time at a disadvantage. And I think a sense of the importance of reliability and responsible is important to teach kids. but on the flip side its nice to have that one teacher in high school that gives you a little bit of space to breath.

nikipedia's avatar

@LKidKyle1985: I totally agree on that point. So far the only assignments I’ve been collecting are graded on completion, so having extra time won’t make a difference. (Honestly, I think it’s really stupid to give this sort of assignment but I am required to give them X amount of points just for showing up in order to encourage them to show up. If it were up to me I’d tell them if they didn’t want to come, they didn’t have to.)

andrew's avatar

I always found the whole “zero if it’s late” as total crap. In the real real world, you learn to communicate that your deadline is slipping, and if you’re really good, you cover your ass.

Attendance, too. That’s ridiculous—especially in a lecture. People showing up late to rehearsal, though, that’s something else entirely.

As long as they aren’t bothering you, though, or the others in class, that’s the most important thing. No reason to get didactic about it.

If I were teaching a college-level course I’d expect people to turn it in, but make it clear that they can communicate if they’re having a hard time finishing.

evegrimm's avatar

I would love to have had you as a TA!

I think it depends on the student and the circumstance, when it comes to late papers. If the student is someone who you feel is trustworthy and/or comes and talks to you about turning it in the next day (“I forgot it in my apartment” or “I just have a few more revisions”) that’s one thing.

If I was in your position, I’d probably let it slide once. (The TAs who have done this in the past are generally more well-liked and nicer than those who give zeros if it’s late.) Then you can start taking points. (Often, it’s one letter grade off when you turn it in late, sometimes up to half the amount of earnable points.)

Similarly, if a student either tells you ahead of time that they will routinely be late to class (if, say, their previous class is on the other side of campus) or apologise afterwards, that’s acceptable, in my mind.

But always coming in late? Or leaving early? From a student’s standpoint, that’s distracting. I think @Jeruba is onto something—to stop people from coming in late, give important information at the beginning of class. Or, alternatively, offer 2 extra credit points (or something) to those who turn in their papers at the beginning of class.

In more general terms, it’s not your job to babysit the kids, which I feel is sort of what the other TAs are doing—giving a zero for a late assignment is similar to high school, where the teacher bugs you until you turn in homework. Once you reach college, you should be learning or at least starting to learn how to pay attention to due dates and turn things in on time.

I hope some of this is helpful…I’ve had many TAs and teachers, both crap and good. So I guess I’m a little opinionated! :P

dpworkin's avatar

I am in college now, and like most of my fellow students I have nothing but contempt for the professors who are so insecure that they must regulate their classrooms with anal-retentive rules about attendance, and tardiness, and when one may use the toilet.

On the other hand, allowing a student to hand an assignment in late with no consequence is unfair to all of the people who worked hard to hand theirs in on time. I don’t think it “teaches responsibility”, it just levels the playing field. As far as coming late, or skipping class, or leaving early – that is the individual’s concern. It has no impact on anyone else, and I have received A grades in classes I never attended except at exam time. Whose business is it, other than my own?

PandoraBoxx's avatar

How many students do you have who come late and turn in late assignments? Is chronic? You don’t win popularity or make your class beneficial to students by lax classroom management policies. On the other hand, you don’t have to go to the extreme of punitive tactics, like locking the door at a certain time, or refusing late work completely no matter what.

It is unfair to the rest of the class when students trickle in, and students do need deadlines to get work turned in. Without enforcing time management structure, you run the risk of teaching to an empty class, not being able to manage your personal time well because you are constantly grading late assignments, and perhaps failing a disproportionate number of students because they don’t quite make it to your class lectures, or habitually come in late.

Give quizzes at the beginning of class, discuss future assignments at the beginning of class, hand out extra credit assignments at the beginning of class. As @evegrimm mentioned, make the beginning of class valuable to the students who are there, and don’t repeat yourself. If you have a number of students who don’t come to class at all, make sure your tests and assignments include materials from lectures that are not in the text book.

hearkat's avatar

My freshman year of High School, I had an algebra teacher who didn’t care if I did my homework because I showed in class and on tests that I understood the material. What is the purpose of homework but to reinforce the lessons? So if the lesson has been learned, why should the extra work be required?

Junior year, in Algebra II, I was understanding the classroom material and consistently getting the highest scores in class on the tests; but that teacher docked me for not doing the homework. I dropped the class.

I had a natural algebraic mind, and it was squelched by inflexible rules. I never went on to take other higher maths, because of that. Just the Statistics course required for my major. I have wondered if I would have done well… Thankfully, I found a career that works well with my analytical mind. :-)

casheroo's avatar

No, I don’t think it’s the schools responsibility to teach students to be responsible and reliable. Your job is to teach Biology.
With that said, teaching comings with deadlines and things that need grades. From the examples you’ve given, no one seems to be walking all over you. If you have a student who is consistently late, I’d talk to them about it.
When I was commuting, I was always late to my early class…I talked to my professor the first day of class and let him know how far I lived and how I had to take the Turnpike so sometimes traffic would be a mess. He understood, and I think appreciated that I let him know.
I do know the only class of mine that had a strict no lateness policy was a Biology course, it was the lab portion, and not the lecture portion though. Probably because we couldn’t make up the work, since the lab was only available to us for a short period of time. I couldn’t be more than I think ten minutes late.

I think you could reach a point of “being too soft” but I think you’ll know when you actually reach that point. It’ll be when multiple kids aren’t handing things in on time, not even showing up for class. They have to learn that it has consequences. I was under the impression that a certain amount of absences equaled failing the class? That should always loom over a students head. unless they have a good damn reason for missing multiple classes

LKidKyle1985's avatar

I don’t know why but I just assumed you were talking about highschool. as far as college goes, I think its a different story. To be honest its the students who are paying you to be there, and if they don’t want to go or if they show up late that really isn’t of your concern. in college people have lots of other responsibilities and making it to class on time just isn’t as easy as it seems.
If someone misses a class, then they have a harder time with the exam thats the trade off. Personally I think as long as you can get the assignments done and do well on the exam, attendance shouldn’t be an issue. But statistics show that the people who attend do better, so its in the universities interest to enforce attendence because the more people who show up for class, the better scores they get, the better they look as an organization.

Val123's avatar

@casheroo “No, I don’t think it’s the schools responsibility to teach students to be responsible and reliable. Your job is to teach Biology.” Nice!! And if the kids get the mis-impression that just because they were late for Biology class it’ll be OK to be late for work—well, I’m sure that mis-impression will be corrected right quick once they get a job!

Val123's avatar

@mattbrowne I see you crafting a response up there! I hope it’s not in German this time!!

mattbrowne's avatar

Give me a sec… no, it’s in English.

casheroo's avatar

@Val123 I can’t tell if you are being sarcastic with me or not…

Val123's avatar

@casheroo No! No! Not at all! It was the best answer, IMO! See! I just gave you a “great answer” click. :)

mattbrowne's avatar

I think the solution is somewhere between being too strict and being too soft. I would argue that even as a teaching assistant you have both a direct responsibility for your students learning biology and an indirect responsibility for your younger students becoming more organized and mature. Your own behavior and attitude will also set an example. I’d define clear boundaries for what is acceptable and what isn’t. A rule could be if your students are late for more than, say 5 minutes, you prefer they don’t show up at all (unless there’s a very good reason). Then it’s up to them to find out about the assignments and how to understand all the stuff being taught. Sometimes peer pressure can be your ally. The reliable students will find it unfair to be taken advantage of. Of course it’s also important to understand the expectations of your professor overseeing the teaching assistents. When I was a TA at the University of Kansas 20 years ago, in one case the feedback of my professor actually was that I’m being too strict. So I changed my approach. I think nobody expects TAs to be experienced teachers. But the longer you do it, the better you get. Your students will learn a lot from you. Regular feedback from your professor is very important. You could even ask a few selected students you trust to give you feedback about your teaching methods and style.

RedPowerLady's avatar

I absolutely do not think you need to be more rigorous. What you describe to me sounds like a typical college environment. Students come in late, they turn in assignments the next day, etc… It is just a part of being in school.

I would however suggest that you set some boundaries so you are not considered too lenient. Another benefit of setting boundaries is then you are able to be accountable to your supervisor. So if another teacher complains about your policies you can explain that in fact you are teaching the kids accountability etc.. you are just doing it in a different way. It’ll be clear that you have boundaries and are still respecting educational guidelines.

My specific recommendation is to require students to be accountable for their actions. If they are late or turn in an assignment late they need to discuss with you the reasons why (even if they are not good reasons) or alternatively write up a paragraph about why they were late/turned the assignment in late. This is teaching them accountability, respect, and communication skills. At the same time their grade isn’t affected by the natural way of school, we all know that lateness happens sometimes.

jqlyn's avatar

I have taught elementary, middle school and community college. I do think that it is our responsibility to teach the students responsible and respectful behavior at all levels, because they do change at each level. It is also important to set up rules and stick to them; however, I always tell my students that they should come to me if they have a problem and we can try to work it out. This is teaching them communication skills and helping them to notice before it is too late to take care of a situation.

I give participation points for each class if the student is late they lose some points. I take off %5 of points on late assignments. When students come to me to try to explain things, often complicated stories (true or not). I tell them that it is up to them, they know the rules and the amount of points they may lose. I do give them leeway in the first week because some of them don’t have their books yet due to financial aid, but after that no leeway on missed or late assignments. I also give them two free absences for the term, if they miss more than that for a non excused or explained situation then they lose points and if they miss more than 4 they fail, if they have not contacted me or have some legitimate excuse.

If there are students who have not missed any classes I usually give them and extra 10 participation points at the end of the term.

It is important to have rules but to be flexible as well, the real world is harsh but people are flexible. Give them a real world experience in an environment that feels safe and give them the opportunity for discussion.

kruger_d's avatar

I would think that most profs have these policies for their own conveinence, not to teach responsibility. Once they are professionals, your students will work under all sorts of management styles. Go ahead and do what is most expedient for you as long as it is clearly communicated to students.

wundayatta's avatar

What’s the goal of teaching? Do you want your students to learn or do you want to score them?

Scoring is about justifying diplomas. It’s about lazy people looking for an easy algorithm by which to judge people. It’s a crock of shit!

Learning is something else. In my mind, education is about getting kids (college students are kids to me) to learn. It’s not about getting them to compete. If anything, it’s about teaching them to cooperate in their learning efforts. From the standpoint of learning, it doesn’t matter if kids are late or hand in assignments late. What matters is what they learn.

In fact, grading the papers and tests is also irrelevant. What matters is giving the kids feedback that can help them do a better job.

Grades are useless measurements that are given out for the convenience of use in documenting that anything has taken place in the classroom. It helps institutions justify the money they charge for providing education. They are a convenient fiction that society agrees to use in order to feel like we’ve actually done something useful. They are a fantasy.

On the other hand, schools have been used as a kind of cultural formatting for humans. Training people to be on time is useful for jobs such as in manufacturing, where you needed bodies to be on time in order for the work to be done. These days, there are few jobs where this is actually necessary. Much more work can be done asynchronously or from home or virtually.

Most jobs that require being on time are lower paid, less prestigious jobs. You have to break people in order to get them to follow these rules. Schools are used as these places to break human spirit. At least, lower class schools are.

College prep schools are for teaching leaders and folks who do intellectual work. They still use grades and strict times for classes, but that is a legacy from the time when everyone did manual labor or piece work. It is gradually going away and work to learn programs and field work, and self-guided research and project based learning are slowly taking the place of the industrial learning techniques.

In my opinion, @nikipedia, you are doing exactly the right thing. You are moving into the future. You are moving towards self-directed and cooperative learning. You are looking at the goal of learning, not the goal of scoring. In other words, at heart, you are a jelly!

Rozee's avatar

Sometime the school determines the expectations for its faculty and dictates exactly what the consequences for behavior are.

When you have the freedom to determine your own standards for grading related to attendance, tardiness, leaving early, sleeping through the class, showing up high, showing up low, turning in work late, alternative assignment, etc., I think the best way to handle it is to state up front in the course syllabus what you expect and what the consequences are for not complying. Exceptions should always be allowed under exceptional circumstances; life happens.

Go over the student expectation day one, thus allowing students to drop the course, but if they stay, they are expected to meet the expectations. The syllabus is the course contract that needs to be agreed upon by the students and the teacher/instructor/professor.

Val123's avatar

@daloon I understand your sentiments, but the tests really are necessary to determine whether the teacher has been successful in imparting the knowledge. Put it this way—if every kid in the class flunks the test, then the teacher screwed up in teaching that particular lesson, and it’s time to start over. Without tests, how else are you going to know whether or not you’ve been successful? You have to keep in mind that we’re talking about teaching 30 kids (or 100 in a large college class) at one time.

tinyfaery's avatar

@Val123 That is absolutely not true. My wife teaches 7th grade math to special-ed kids. 7th grade math is pre-algebra. By law, she must teach these kids the standard. Well, some of these kids don’t even know how to add single digits. She can spend soooo much time on these kids, and they still fail. It is not her simply her fault if they do not pass.

Val123's avatar

@tinyfaery That’s a different situation, of course! I’m saying that in a regular classroom, if every kid fails a test then the teacher didn’t teach the material correctly.

tinyfaery's avatar

@Val123 Actually, standards have become so unrealistic. Kids are expected to learn concepts that their brain is not yet capable of truly understanding. Sure, not all kids fail, but unrealistic expectations are placed upon teacher so much that a large portion of their students leave their classes not having really grasped what was being taught. But this is off topic.

Val123's avatar

@tinyfaery I know exactly what you’re saying. Been there, taught that. And what’s wrong with getting off topic, anyway? I haven’t figured that out

druebeall's avatar

I think so. You are responsible for handing things in on time, preparing for tests and such. If you do not there are consequences. So I say definately.

Val123's avatar

@druebeall But, in the end, it’s the home situation that will ultimately determine if you are the kind of kid to follow the directions given in school…..some kids, and their families don’t care about the consequences.

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