This semester has been more taxing than most semesters. There are a few reasons for this, but the most prevalent, the one that is the easiest to understand and the hardest to do anything about, is the epidemic of students turning in late papers.
Most students don’t turn in papers late. Most. But, out of a class of 25, there will be four. If you have four classes, that’s twenty students who have an issue with turning in work on time. The reason this happens, I think, is because students do math. If they have homework in other classes, they decide which homework can wait and which can’t. If a biology test is coming up, they can put more work into that and less work into my paper. My class is a liberal arts class, anyway. In the long run, it doesn’t matter as much as, say, a biology test does for a biology major. It’s understandable and we all have done it. I’ve done it. I did it. It’s different now that I’m on the other side of the fence. I’ve never liked taking late papers but it’s worse now than ever. It’s completely my fault, too. I’m getting so many late papers because for the first time this semester I’m accepting late papers.
My policy for the last two years was that I do not, ever, accept late papers. Period. That was always hard for me to deal with, because students just wouldn’t turn in papers and their grades would be low. This semester I decided to accept late papers with a penalty. Thus, I’m getting late papers.
There are several problems with students turning in papers late. One is pedagogical. Students aren’t going to learn discipline, order, structure or time management if they can’t get a paper done and in on time. They understand that the world has loopholes and they try to work around and into those loopholes. As professors, our job is to teach them not to use loopholes but to work the system. Loopholes are there and they have a purpose, but they aren’t guaranteed or promised. I’m not very worried about that because students are going to find the easiest way to do anything. They are the best capitalists. No, what bothers me is the moral component. How can I take a paper late when so many other students turned in their papers on time? If a paper was due on Thursday and you didn’t turn it in until the following Tuesday, you had four extra days to work on it. That’s not fair. It’s not at all fair.
There is also the psychological effects. I’m never done grading. Even if I finish an entire set, they will be a lingering four or five floating in, lamely, tiredly, like weak warriors who couldn’t be bothered getting out of bed. By the time I clean that mess up, the next set are due and I have to do them all over again.
It’s strange that something so small and nonsensical could affect my life. I’ve been in a foul mood for a month now. The air tastes dirty. My sleep is riddled with spurts of waking. It takes me ten minutes just to think about moving the covers off me. By attempting to avoid the guilt of not allowing students to turn in late papers, I know feel the anger of allowing students to turn in late papers. Someone told me last week they they couldn’t win. I told them that life isn’t a game. But that’s hard advice to take.