I reached a pivotal moment in my teaching career when I heard someone say, “You know what? You can give them two weeks to do an assignment, or you can give them two days. They’re still going to do it the night before.”
This completely revolutionized the way I think about due dates.
Let’s get real. No matter how much we tell them to do otherwise, most students are going to procrastinate. They will wait until the last minute and then claim that they “work better under pressure.”
How do I know this?
I used to say this myself. As I left everything until the last minute.
I don’t quite know where those halcyon days of “working better under pressure have gone,” but my friends, they are over. They pretty much retreated as soon as I entered an upper level, writing-intensive college English course. And they have never been seen again.
Now as a teacher, I spend quite a bit of time setting due dates for the entire semester for my students. I do consider things like:
It’s not a good idea to have an essay due the day after the homecoming game.
There will be some days when approximately 73.4% of my students are gone on a band trip.
I need to give a reasonable amount of time to complete an assignment (knowing full well that they will wait until the last minute).
Students are taking other classes, some of which are at least as demanding as mine.
Students need to eat/sleep/talk to their families.
However, I also consider the most important factor in the due date setting process to be . . .
my own sanity.
Sometimes students will ask me to push back a due date. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I don’t.
Much depends on what else I have to grade. For instance, I’m not going to collect an essay for the current grading period three days before the end of said grading period. I’m not going to collect writers notebooks and essays at the same time. I’m not going to collect major projects from all of the different classes I teach on the same day.
Much depends on what other events are going on in my life. I might be attending a conference or have family in town or working with my writing project. I plan these all as far in advance as I can, and I consider them as I create my calendar.
Planning around your own life, dear colleagues, is completely okay. More than okay. In fact, begin now, if you haven’t already.
Striking a balance between the needs of my students and my own health can be difficult. Those of us with the humanitarian bent that drew us to teaching also struggle with the tendency to martyrdom. However, this is one of the most important balances to find, I believe, if I am to stay in the teaching career. And I believe that, at least for now, I should stay.