Teaching Controversy: Accepting Late Work

I’ve mentioned before that I have a few “series” I want to start writing to on this blog periodically.  One of the ones I am excited about is “Teaching Controversy.”  Especially as a secondary teacher, there are so many things that teachers debate over.  Curve tests, or not?  Allow re-takes, or not?  Provide study guides, or not?  This is because as secondary teachers we are in a tough position.  Over a four-year period in our classrooms, students are transitioning from being fresh out of middle school to being 18 years old, about to live on their own.  It is such an important time where life skills, critical thinking capabilities, and autonomy need to be cultivated if we want our students to be successful after graduation.  But how harsh is too harsh?  Where do we draw the line?  These issues can be tricky, which is why I want to open the door to discuss some of these controversial issues here.  I’d LOVE to hear your opinions, because I definitely don't feel like I have the perfect solution!

First I want to talk about accepting late work.  I’ve spent so much time thinking through this topic.  I’ve now taught at three different schools in my teaching career – all completely different in demographics and even geography.  I’ve been at a medium-sized, mostly Caucasian, rural public school.  I’ve been at a massive, diverse, urban public school, with over half of the students living below the poverty line.   Currently I am at a tiny, very wealthy private school in a resort town.  So although I have only been teaching for 4  years, I’ve taught over 500 different kids under 3 different principals with 3 very different ideologies. 

Now that you get my background, hopefully that will help you understand my opinion on this.  I hate accepting late work.  There I said it.  Here are my reasons:
  1. We are trying to teach high schoolers to be responsible and take ownership for their education.  But yet we baby them and give them chance after chance to meet our expectations.
  2. It’s a pain in the you-know-where to grade late work.
  3. Fairness is one of my top priorities, which is why even when I grade tests, I grade them question by question, so I can ensure when I grade open response or essays that I am being consistent in the partial credit I give.  When you grade a student’s work later than the rest of the class, it is impossible to guarantee the same objectivity.  Personally I swing two directions if I accept late work – I am either extra harsh (because let’s be honest – I am annoyed I’m having to search back for the answer key I had out two weeks ago) or I am too easy on them, because I don’t have time to sit down and give them the thorough feedback I gave the first group.
  4. It isn’t fair to the student’s who turned it in on time because then they can’t get their graded work returned promptly.  If you do return it, you have no idea if the kid turning late work even did it themselves or just copied it.

I could go on and on.  But I think these 4 points are the most critical.  If I have learned anything over the last four years too it is that students will meet the expectations we set for them.  When we say we will accept late work, we are saying that we don’t expect them to be capable of turning things in on time.  When we say that, our students believe it.  That is not the kind of attitude I want my students to have going into college!

I will say, I am not a tyrant!  I do accept late work within a given unit.  I take 10% off every day it is late, capping the penalty at 50% off.  I will take late work up until the day of the unit test, because of course I want students to do the work so that they will learn the content - that is the whole point of assigning the work in the first place!  However, I haven't found it beneficial for the students to allow them to turn in late work months after it was assigned (such as the last day of the semester for something assigned in August) because the quality is typically so poor and at this point, the students are just completing it for a grade rather than to actually learn the material. I also of course ALWAYS follow the accommodations written for students with IEPs or 504s.

The last thing I will say too is that I have VERY low expectations for what I assign and expect students to do outside of school.  I know my students have jobs, sports, family responsibilities, and other extra-curriculars filling their plates, and I don't want them to feel burdened any more than they already are.  I want them to enjoy my class and the learning process!  Because of this, I only assign outside of class work if I find it meaningful, beneficial and necessary to their understanding of the content.  I also give them ample notice of when assignments are due so that they can practice time management skills and figure out the best time within their schedule to finish the work by the deadline.  This also helps to minimize the late work as a whole because students know that I respect their time, so they respect mine.  I have daily tutoring hours after school and during lunch to help any students and provide a quiet space for them to work if they need that prior to leaving school and going on to the rest of their responsibilities.  Since establishing these policies and this way of running my class, I have had less than a handful of students with chronic issues in regards to late work over the years.

Now I would LOVE to hear your thoughts.  What do you do about late work?  Do you have a district or school policy you have to follow?  What’s your heart for it?  Can’t wait to hear what you think and learn from your experiences!

As a teacher, we need strategies daily to deal with the multitudes of problems that come our way.  One of those problems is whether or not to allow our students to turn in late work.   Here are four reasons why accepting late work can be damaging for your students.

37 comments

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  2. Thank you for such an honest post! My classroom teaching experience is in elementary and this is an area I struggled to find the "best" solution to! On one hand I wanted to teach students to be responsible and turn things in on time, but on the other hand I wanted to be kind and compassionate ... I imagine it must be an even harder struggle with middle and high school students because you know they are closer to college and the work force.

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    1. I definitely think you are right - grace is definitely needed more for elementary students!!

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  3. Having seen my children struggle with responsibilities out of their control, I wanted to do something for my own students. I came up with an idea that has really worked well for my students and me. I give each student four "Postponements" at the beginning of the year. They can be used for HW, Quizzes or anything else that is a short turn around or performance based (foreign language teacher here). These are things that having an extra day does not give them any advantage other than time. For example, I give a vocabulary quiz about 1.5 weeks into a new unit to ensure they're doing their daily practice. All the words are on it so there's nothing "leaked" once it's been administered. Sometimes the students need to speak to me briefly. There's no way to "cheat" on that. I seldom collect/correct HW practice so that's not a major issue for me but if I did, yes...they could copy but to pretend kids don't already copy is naive (which is why I don't grade much done outside of class and most of my assignments are to practice).

    I no longer allow it for exams because finding enough time to make it up was troublesome and they are assigned further in advance so the students can plan accordingly.

    We meet every other day and the rule is that the work must be made up before the next class meeting. This is a minor or non-existent inconvenience for me and the students are very appreciative. If they have a major exam in another class or a game or it's their birthday, I like them to have a little control over their time.

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    1. I think that is such a great idea and I especially think it works well with how you see them every other day and can get them to come and make it up before the next class. That would definitely make it harder for me since I do see them every day, but I think you are right that is a great way to work around big games or other legitimate excuses like that that may arise. Plus I think it's great you don't let them do it with tests - because like you said, that would be much more challenging to get them made up and test material is more protected than vocabulary for a vocab. quiz. Thanks for sharing what you do! Love hearing strategies that have worked for other teachers!

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    2. Love the idea of "Postponements" - it allows for some grace when it's really needed, and kids still end up doing all the same work as everyone else. I teach 7th & 8th grade French, and I find some kids are ALWAYS absent on the day of an evaluation, so maybe this strategy would reduce that!

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  4. I teach 8th grade, so I have a bit of a grace period. I accept late work up to one week (5 school days) past the due date, but deduct 10% from the grade each day that it is late. After the 5th day, I don't accept it (no exceptions).

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    1. I think that is great! Definitely a way to teach them responsibility before high school, but still holding them to a high standard!

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  6. I teach 7th grade history and I feel the same way as you do about grading late work: I hate it!! I allow any assignment to be handed in up until the end of the quarter, but only for half credit. Even if an assignment is handed in a period later, it gets half credit. To me, school is a microcosm of life. You are going to get in trouble in life for not handed things in on time. At work, with the IRS, etc. I tell those kids who had a birthday, a game, etc that it was a 5 point assignment, and they can get 3 points back when they hand it in. It is not the end of life, just a simple punishment, for not handing something in on time. I think students need to learn how to appropriately deal with this. Everything has a consequence and the sooner they learn how to handle those consequences in stride, the sooner they will be ready for life after high school. Projects, tests and quizzes obviously have different standards. Students lose 10% per day on late projects (especially since we usually work on them as a class for weeks before the deadline). I don't give extra credit, so if a student inevitably approaches me to ask what they can do to raise their grade two days before the end of the quarter, I look to see what assignments they are missing, and i tell them they can do those for some credit. It has worked for me so far in my 15 years of teaching. I feel like i'm teaching responsibility, while still giving a little safety net.

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    1. Love reading this and I couldn't agree more! Have to teach them responsibility!!

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  7. I totally agree with you. I have taught 6th grade for 5 years now and I hate accepting late work. If I accept it the student can only make a 50 and that is for a perfect assignment. I would rather not accept it at all. My school is a small private school and we are getting a larger middle/high school. This year we are making middle school separate and I will be teaching 6,7,8 I will teach reading, Bible, writing, study skills, and some computer skills. I believe we should be molding our students to be more responsibile and if we allow them to turn in late work that is not helping them at all. Like you said when we set expectations most of the students will rise to meet them.

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    1. Yes yes yes! Couldn't agree more with you! Phew you have SO many preps! You seriously rock!

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  8. I too have struggled with this topic. I teach high school English. I allow students to hand in late work because I must give them every chance at being successful, especially since I teach seniors with graduation on the line. I don't want to be in a situation where a parent calls and an administrator wants to know what I've done to help a kid, and believe me I have been in this situation. I want to be able to say I let students make up work or gave them an alternative assignment.

    Also student grades should be based on academic performance not behavioral. Read the book Grading Smarter not Harder. He discusses the issue of late work, how to handle it, and what's wrong with penalties. He explains it better than I did.

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    1. Phew yes, that would be tough with seniors. So much pressure to get them through to graduate! I'm sure you get tons of parent pushback - and nothing worse when the parent goes straight to the administrator before contacting you first! I totally hear what you are saying about grading them on what they know and not behaviors, but I have such an internal battle with that because we ARE teaching them behaviors to be successful in the real world too. I care more about the habits and work ethic they form in my class than the amount of biology they can regurgitate. I will definitely check out that book though! Thanks so much for sharing! I love hearing others thoughts on this because it is such a sticky subject!

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    2. I am in a similar situation, Andrea. I teach at a school where 90 percent of our students live in poverty. I feel so guilty giving them extra time to get their work in (not referring to students with IEPs). I started to give a few extra bonus points to students who handed in their work early or on time.

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  9. We struggle because we have a pervasive attitude a,ONG a large percentage of our kids where they simply do not care. I had a 17 year old in ninth grade and he did nothing all semester. I begged. I offer d help. I tried to call Home twice, but I don't leave messages so that a young person does not get physical consequences by misunderstandings.

    So, mom and I finally get together. Administration and counseling are pushing for him to pass. I am as well because I know we will lose him if he has to repeat ninth grade again. The issue is, i sat on FaceTime with him and mom. I set up everything including citations and formatting and more. In three days he underlined a few paragraphs in an article and wrote one paragraph in a paper that is an exam grade.

    This same student spewed venom in a threatening manner toward another teacher that I could not ignore. Instead of a full suspension, he is sitting in the office of the VP and allowed to work to attempt to pass and take his final exams.

    This is an extreme case. He may not even do enough work. My point is that he sat in class. He talked. I had to fuss with the stupid cell phone. I begged. I talked and explained and was compassionate. He does not care. Yet he is going to have another chance. This one far beyond what is close to appropriate.

    If we do not take late work the office will encourage us to do so. Consequently, my - 10% off for each day up to ten days and then zeros after that- goes right out the window.

    I also offer a request to retest one test or quiz each quarter. It is rarely used, but they will bring 4 half done articles and sad examples of effort the day of finals. It's maddening! It's hard without full administrative backing.

    Every kid is an exception.

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    1. Oh my word Misty, I can only imagine how frustrating of a situation this is. I could NOT agree more with you - you have to have an administration to fully support you in these endeavors or all of the stipulations you put in place in your classroom go out the window as soon as mom walks in the principal's office. The school I student taught in was exactly like yours. I had no real authority in that classroom any way, but I was definitely shocked by how passively they just allowed students to put in such little effort and get through. It made the most frustrated because of the students who had some intellectual setbacks, but were actually trying their hardest and coming up with the same grades in the end that administration was handing to students like the one you described. I've tried in every job interview since to ask about these kind of issues and administration's stance so I am aware of what I would be walking into. You are an incredibly strong teacher to stay in that school! That would be really, really hard for me.

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  10. I'm somewhat disappointed that you did not have a solution for this controversy! LOL

    I teach 9th-12th at a small Christian school. My policy is "a due date is a due date". I will accept the assignment one day late, but they lose 10 points (a letter grade). I will still accept it at two days late, but they lose 20 points (two letter grades). In addition I communicate with the parents, because...on Day Three, they are still responsible for the assignment, however, they will receive a zero grade.

    I also follow through with the school-wide homework policy. Three homework infractions = detention. So on Day One, they are written up for no homework in addition to the points penalty. On Day Two, they are written up again. On Day Three, they are written up, receive a zero, and as well they serve one day detention, where they will complete the offending assignment. This may seem like a double-penalty, however, I was seeing a pattern of students deliberately not doing assignments and taking the zero. Other than nagging and calling parents I had no real leverage to enforce the completion of the assignment. This is laziness at best and rebellious at worst, neither of which I condone.

    Do I ever make an exception? There are never exceptions to the points penalty. However, when the circumstances for failing to turn in the assignment are exceptional, I have opted not to write up the homework infraction on Day One. I have had parents make a special trip to the school to turn in an assignment that was left on the kitchen counter, to spare their students the homework infraction.
    The lesson learned is to take instruction and due dates seriously, whatever it takes. ("But Sis Thibodeaux, our printer ran out of ink." My reply: "You have your own vehicle and money, drive to the store for printer ink and print your assignment!" Make an effort young people!) They are given plenty of advance notice to work around games and birthdays. I have extended due dates when I'm aware of an extra-heavy load across their other subjects. So I'm not heartless. LOL.

    One day VERY soon they will answer to college professors and employers and coworkers...it is my job to make sure they are prepared for the challenges and not walking into a job expecting their boss to accept excuses.

    I don't even feel like this is "setting a high standard". If an assignment is given with a specific due date, the expectation should be that the assignment is turned in on the due date. I will not give bonus points for simple compliance. The grace is that I accept the assignment at all after the due date.

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    1. Oh, and P.S. I'm enjoying your blog. I wish you and I could be together on a collaborative team! LOL

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    2. Not sure how I am just now seeing this but LOVED reading your strategy. I couldn't agree with you more! And thank you for reading! I MISS being in a bigger school with an actual team so I'd be all for the collaboration ;)

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  11. I have struggled with the late homework issue my entire 34 year career. The older I get, the more I struggle. Here are my thoughts: I believe, as many of you do, that high school students need to become responsible because adult life is around the corner. One part of this responsibility is turning work in on time. However, what do you do when the students in the classroom are overwhelmed with advanced coursework and need a day or two more to do their best work? What do you do when there are three major assignments in three of their classes that are due within the same timeframe? What do you do when the student is a perfectionist and the pure thought of starting the assignment scares him or her so much that the work ends up being late? Or if he or she works so slowly due to slow processing... Do we grade the academic content or the behavior associated with the lateness of the work? This is my biggest struggle. If I am going to take points off a major assignment because it is two days late (two days for some teachers is 20% of the points), can I sleep knowing that the assignment, which in this hypothetical is an A, received a B- because of a behavioral not academic challenge? I will retire in three years and I don't believe I will have an answer. Your thoughts?

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    1. So sorry I am just seeing this - I really fell behind on blog comments when I was on maternity leave and am just now catching up! You are so right, I really don't think there is one right answer, which is what makes this so tricky. I think for me, I am HYPER organized (it is kind of my love language), so I put all assignments/due dates in the gradebook the first day of a unit, and I require very little of my students outside of school hours, due to knowing how busy they all are. This has allowed me to hold a high standard because I am giving them time to plan in advance and I am attempting to respect their lives outside of school. I 100% agree with all your thoughts though, and I think if I didn't run my class the way that I do, it wouldn't be fair to be as strict as I am with the students about it. Any of my students with accommodations of course get extra time too. I think the perfectionist comment is interesting and one I actually haven't come into contact with yet, but I know you are right that those students exist. That is one for me to ponder!

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  12. Yup, this is a toughie.

    I second what someone said above about reading Myron Dueck’s “Grading Smarter Not Harder.” It completely changed my view on assessment.

    I accept late work and do not take marks off for it. I believe that a student’s grade on an assignment should not be tainted by late marks or given a zero because that doesn’t truly reflect their learning.

    It’s hard to teach that responsibly but I think of my high school classroom as practice for the real world. Expectations are still present, and a student’s behavioural grade will become impacted if they do not submit on time, but overall, I believe that if we give zeroes or late marks, we are doing our students a disservice because their grades aren’t reflecting their actual learning.

    Always a good topic! Thanks for the interesting discussion.

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    1. Love hearing your thoughts! I definitely don't think there is one best way or right answer. But am always encouraged and challenged by discussing the topic with other educators!

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  13. Educators have the wrong ideas about teaching responsibly, I what teachers to have compassion to the students and to their lives. That's what school systems need more of. Think of all the things going on in high schools today. Compassion is what kids need more than anything else....! Who wants to sign a contract at the beginning of the year, not knowing what may happen. The contracts protect the distract and teachers. Who, I ask is protecting the kids. Also some teaches give a free 100 just for handing in policy contract. What is that. I'll tell you "the wrong message"

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    1. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts! I am a bit unsure what side you fall on, but I do agree that compassion is key. It is a dark world our students are growing up in, and if we don't love our students, what are we doing? But I also firmly believe that because I love my students and have compassion for them, it is loving for me to prepare them to succeed outside of my classroom.

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  14. hello, The problem that I see and have experience in schools. I would say is that their is not a absolute contingencies plan for every teacher to follow. For example on 25th all the students know that it's projects, research papers, daily work, quiz, cba, etc is going happen or be done that day. That day comes and a student is not a school due to a car accident, family death, sickness, hospitalization but every student was told that date was> to bad so sad date. Zero is in the grade book. Should that student be able to get a grade? Some teachers would say no some may say yes.... The "absolute contingencies" would help all questions, upset parents,and please lets not forget about the kids self worth. And then maybe there wouldn't have to be sides. As far as a kids just forgetting: I believe in a point system. I do not believe in the idea/feeling: never late work.....rewarding the classes that have reduced late works and getting the parents involved with a calendar updates and then group send.

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    1. Oh wow, I never realized some schools wouldn't make exceptions for absences like those! I totally accept late work from absent students without a penalty. I never even realized a need to clarify that until you mentioned it!

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  15. I came across this site struggling with the issue of how to handle late work. My district opposes deductions, as the average should reflect knowledge of the subject matter. I agree with this ideology, however I know in life there's consequences for not meeting deadlines. If you pay a bill late, you are charged a penalty. If you arrive late at work, you are written up or reprimanded in some sense. I teach 6th Grade in a rural school district with 85% poverty. I'm finding through my 15 years of service in the area that the problem is only worsening. My question is, should late work be reflective not in their subject grade average, but in their conduct grade? Conduct consists of behavior within the classroom, but if a poor home environment is impeding their ability to complete assignments and obligations...should they be held accountable? And if so, what should be considered fair and equitable for all?

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    1. Goodness you raise so many good points. You are articulating the struggle I feel on both sides of the issue exactly. That's interesting that you all provide a conduct grade - I have never experienced that so never considered that as an option. In terms of being fair and equitable I think you are right - that is a non-negotiable for our students. We HAVE to be. This is why I really really try to limit outside of school work. I have had so many students when I was in public school that worked the second they got out of school until bed. They didn't have the time and thus it wasn't fair to them to expect a lot from them outside of the classroom. But all of these students were in my regular level classes, so I didn't provide homework for them like I did for my honors level students. Maybe that is a potential solution?

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  16. I think we all know which students would take advantage of turning in work late on a consistent basis and which students have needs that might require them more time or simply another chance. OUr goal as educators is to ALWAYS have a chance to see the work. Not accepting late work is allowing behavior to affect a grade. The grade should reflect student work and not student behavior. I look at this from the perspective of a high school teacher and mother of an ADHD kid. He sometimes has the work completed and simply forgets to turn it in and teachers will not accept it. It's frustrating and doesn't encourage him to get it in on time. He has so many zeros, he just doesn't care about the class anymore. He is getting a low D because she is grading him on his behavior and not his actually work. It's old school think to keep saying I want kids to be responsible so I am marking them down on irresponsibility. We all know that even in college, we turned in papers late, retook tests and asked for extensions. We know that as adults, we do the same thing there some times. Stop assessing students like there are adults!

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    1. I appreciate you taking the time to share your viewpoints! I also love hearing the perspective of others, and I definitely hope I didn't come off as thinking I had this all figured out. Just like to share my perspective so that I have a chance to hear from others, too! I totally think you are right in your first statement, which is hard for me though in practicality because equity is incredibly important to me, and because of that I feel like I have to draw lines in the sand, even for situations like this one where there is a lot of gray area. However, my students in the past who have had ADHD had 504s which allowed for necessary accommodations, like you are suggesting. I ALWAYS adhere to the required accommodations for my students, so I haven't had an issue like the one you are describing with your son, and I am really sorry to hear that is what your experience has been! I also always will receive work from students and provide feedback so that they can learn from it, even if I don't get them a grade if it is past the end of the unit with which the work was covered. I respectfully disagree with your statement about it being old school to provide consequences for students who do not provide evidence for their work completed in a reasonable time frame. I graduated from undergraduate school in 2012 and was not allowed to re-take a single test or turn in a single assignment when I was in college. I did go to a very large university, so maybe that was the case. I've mentored high school girls for the last 10 years so I continue relationships with them when they go to college, and the most consistent thing I hear from ALL of them is how they were NOT prepared for the strict standards of their college professor, and they wish their high school teachers hadn't been as lenient with them because college has been such a shock. This is the reason for my motivation of using this critical time frame in these high school students life, to train them and prepare them for life as young adults.

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  17. You sound like you are a control freak and want to control everything. I don't agree with how you worded this or your reasoning. There are different ways to handle it. These are children with so much learning on their plates. Your job doesn't require you to take in tremendous amount of information from various subjects. The workforce is much different from your teaching job. Universities are actually more lenient because these are working adults trying to learn and get through life. They aren't just working a job that's it. They juggle more than you. Learning takes time and takes effort. They way you word everything and your answers make you seem privileged. Have you ever worked another professional job? If not then where does you experience come from? Did you work as a high school student? Did you work and carry a family in college? Where you brought up with a leg up in life because you didn't have to struggle to get through school? I think you need more compassion. Your entire message revolves around yourself and not concerned about your students.

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    1. Hey there! Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. I enjoy engaging in discourse with fellow teachers so that I can learn and grow more, but I do desire to do that in a respectful manner, and I hope if you continue to interact on my site you will honor that request. I have taken parts of your criticism constructively and have added more context and detail to this post, because like you said, I definitely don't think I worded this perfectly or explained my reasoning entirely. I did have a job the entire time I was in high school and all throughout college. I also was in many extracurriculars in high school and worked extremely hard to earn a full scholarship during that time to the college of my choice, as I did not have access to family income to pay for my undergraduate or graduate degrees. I completed graduate school at night during my first two years teaching as well. I would love to hear your perspective as a teacher on late work and what has worked best for you and the students in your classroom. I learn best from other teachers when I can hear what practically works best for them, rather than just what is wrong about the way I do things. I truly do have a desire to learn! I don't think your judgement on my character is fair after only reading one very short blogpost I have written. I am by no means perfect, but I have always had immense compassion for my students, and my heart for them is what drew me in to the education field in the first place. I am a real person on the other side of this screen - not a heartless robot, and I hope you will consider that if you read this response and choose to respond again. Thanks for your time!

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