Teaching class was a bit rough these past two days. There were the usual complaints on my end; the cold morning chill, a damp sneaker I mistakenly navigated into a puddle in the dark, out of breath from scaling four flights of stairs at once, a creeping head cold, and, of course, a general haze of exhaustion from waking up so. dang. early.
And my students feel it to. Some live farther away, some take greater care each morning to show up looking like supermodels, but (most of the time) they manage to drag themselves into class before sunrise to hear me babble about metering modes and white balance, watching me attempt to turn technical photography lessons into something a bit more exhilarating (even if it means I have to run around the room making a fool out of myself).
But this week, I had to be the bad guy.
The deadline is quickly approaching for submitting an “X” grade for my students if I feel they’re purposely skipping classes and assignments, so I thought it was necessary to remind them of my attendance and late assignment policy.
It was the late assignment policy that really stirred people up. I decided that I wouldn’t accept late assignments. At all. If a deadline is set at 5pm, it must be uploaded to our class site or in my inbox by 5pm (though, technically I accept assignments with a generous 5 minute grace period).
“I had classes until 5pm…” “My computer wouldn’t work for an hour…” “The website wouldn’t let me upload one minute before the deadline…” “I thought it was due Wednesday, not Tuesday…”
I gave a big speech to the class, proclaiming how I don’t want to fail them, how much I want them all to earn A’s and go on in life knowing more about photography and photojournalism than they did before. But the deadlines are there for a reason and I can’t accept late work.
“Maybe just take off a point?” “But, can’t you just accept it?” “I did the work!”
I empathized. I thought of how I was a senior in college just two years ago. I slacked off sometimes, and I busted my ass when it counted. I tried clever tricks with my professors; calmly turning in a paper exactly one day late with the ‘totally-didn’t-realize-I-wrote-the-due-date-down-wrong’ attitude, emails freaking out about computer failures, turning in a paper with a page missing from it (meaning I’d have time to finish the whole paper by the time the professor figured it out, right?).
I thought of the teachers who gave me a chance. And I thought of the ones who still wouldn’t budge. I griped and whined about the hit to my grade, but those teachers never got a late assignment from me again.
So, if we end the semester and my students still don’t quite understand when to increase their ISO (low light! low light!), I hope they at least absorb a bit of real world advice about deadlines. If one of them will find him/herself with a big, important photojournalism assignment, trying to explain a massive computer meltdown that happened right as they tried to submit their Pulitzer Prize-worthy masterpiece, they won’t face a bumbling 22-year-old who’s trying to retain some speck of coolness with them, but an editor who couldn’t care less about their malfunctions and already gave away the space to someone who turned their photos in on time.
It’s tough. I despise being the mean teacher. I want to be the hip, American teacher that they brag to all their friends about. I want them to like me! It was only a few minutes late, why can’t I just let it slide? Because I freakin’ love my students too much. I want to grab them all by the shoulders, tell them to learn from their mistakes, plan better in the future, and be prepared for people they encounter who won’t love them as much as I do.
And I want them to turn in their work on time.