Nearing the end of the fall semester, our faculty met yesterday to consider a couple of important decisions related to next semester. The big one was out unified policies related to late assignments.
First, a little background: we are an early college high school in our third year. That means that we exist for students who are “at risk” of not attending college without some assistance and encouragement. It also means that out students — most of them first generation college students — are working on their high school diploma and associates degrees simultaneously. Their goal is successful completion of both in four years. It means that our ninth graders take at least one class each semester that is a full-on college class taught by the faculty from the community college on whose campus we are located. By 11th grade, our students will be completely immersed on the college campus and integrated into college classes for 100% of their course work.
My job, as a ninth grade technology applications teacher, is to facilitate their learning experiences and to help them get ready to perform at a high level and think like college students although they are barely 15 years old.
What does that really mean? Well, in part, it means that since “higher ed” does not accept late work, or allow “re-dos” on assignments that I have to factor that in when setting up my classroom procedures and policies. Since “higher ed” instructors have a much wider latitude in how they teach and even what they teach, I have to somehow prepare my students for that occasional teacher who wants to spend the entire class period chasing a rabbit down a hole instead of teaching my students how to understand the intricacies of world history or economics or anatomy and physiology — even though that is what the test next week will cover.
The “real world” of higher ed can be a harsh place. Consider the 11th grade former student who came to see me because she is getting a D in psychology because that is her average. Never mind the fact that every assignment in this professor’s class was a subjectively-graded assignment in which the margin for error was far more than the one point she needed to pass the course. Never mind that that that one point — actually, it was .6 of a point — means she will have to retake the course to get graduation credit for it. “You just should have scored one point higher on one of your assignments,” she was told.
Philosophically, I believe in teaching toward mastery which is messy and almost always demands re-dos and late assignments, yet I also have to help my students develop the stamina and mental toughness that will help them be successful in their college classes. By the way, you would need to recall that we are not preparing my ninth graders for a future reality that will hit them then they are 16 or even 17. Since they have a college speech class next period, this is their present reality.
Late assignments? Higher-ed will give them a zero and move on to the next assignment. I do not give them a zero for late work and I do not reduce their score on that work when it does come in the next day. I try to separate the behavioral issues from the academic issues. I want my academic data to reflect learning, not behavior, so I hound them until they get the work done while working with them on their behavior and seeking to move them toward more responsible completion of assignments.
It is a much thinner line that I walk than the one that my peers in other, more traditional high schools walk. They have four years to walk the tightrope of college readiness. I have one foot on one rope and the other on a parallel strand. For my students, college readiness is “now”, not later.
As a faculty, we are unanimously committed to our students’ success as both high school and college students, so we will find a way and the dialogue will continue. Since I have no inclination that higher ed will be changing any time soon, we will adapt in order to find the methodology that takes into account that we teach students who would be foundering on any other campus. We teach students who believe in a big dream. We also dream big dreams for our students.