Cool Your Jets, Teachers. I know I have.

Between my writing and dramas and other pursuits, I do this regular thing called my day job where I teach for a living. I really do enjoy it. I’ve been doing it in various settings for the past twenty-two years.

I’ve noticed one thing that’s changed about my approach to teaching the last couple of years. I’ve cooled my engines. I’ve stopped coming at students with both barrels blazing. I’ve stop being the stickler for rules just because rules have to be followed.

In other words, I’ve cooled my jets! And I’m convinced, it’s for the better.

Example. In the past, when I required a paper to be turned in, I gave everyone a due date and expected it to be turned in by that time. Usually it was. If it wasn’t, I’d knock off 20% the first day, and perhaps more after that. At least, I thought, I’m not as hard as some other teachers who don’t even except late work.

Even if it was turned in on time, I would consider what they gave me to be their grade-able work, whether or not it was good enough or whether or not they followed all my instructions. If they didn’t include in-text citations, they would fail. If they messed up their works cited page, it would count against them. And so on and so forth. Punishment upon punishment for not getting it right. That’s what I was supposed to do, right? Grade their effort? Grade what they turned in against my expectations?

Maybe not.

Perhaps I’ve softened. Perhaps I’ve seen my own kids struggle through things in school, and I have a little more empathy. Or maybe I’ve just learned as a teacher that it’s okay to teach. It’s okay to have kids turn in assignments late. It’s okay to let them re-do in, and, as it turns out, they may actually learn something in the process. Isn’t that what they are supposed to do?

Recently, I had my US History class turn in their papers. I had the soft due date. Slightly harder due date. Firm due date. And drop-dead due-date. This was meant to give the kids some flexibility in their lives in case they were busy, and these kids are very busy doing all kinds of things.

So as the drop-dead due-date came and went, I started reading the papers and realized that there were some major problems in some of these papers. And if I kept reading and graded what was turned in, it would significantly lower their grade. Some might even fail.

Well, as it turns out, there is life after death!

I gave back their ungraded papers and we took some time in class to reinforce important issues such as in-text citations, formatting, and the works cited page. We talked about their importance, not just being a set of foolish rules, but how it allows every reader easy access to the important information that they are trying to  communicate.

Now, I’m getting in some revised papers which are much better. I don’t give any penalty for late work. They simply ended up doing their papers correctly, the way I wanted them to do it in the first place. They learned some lessons along the way. It was good for them. It was good for me.

My poor students who had to suffer through my previous self. I thank you for tolerating me. Sorry about your “C”. But hey, we are all learning. Some just take a little longer. I’m sure glad I haven’t been penalized for my slow learning.

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