Wednesday, January 11, 2012

An Early Thirsty on Girding One's Loins.

Maybe this blue juice
will give me the power!
Okay, I got beaten like a dog last semester by my students who used endless begging to make me give in on policies and procedures.

I always give in. But I want to turn it around. As my dear hubby says, I must "gird my loins" and just push back.

But it sounds like a losing cause. I'm a softie!

Q: Has anyone here ever successfully changed his/her professorial nature to stand up to the scourge?

Helpful, uplifting stories may begin below!


Marjorie from Mass.


  1. I happen to believe that our natures don't appreciably change over time.

    You may want to gird your loins, but it will be tough to do that.

    However, let policies rule your class AND you. If you imagine your late paper policy is simply sacrosanct, even if you feel great empathy with your students, you still just CAN'T hurts you, too, you can say.

    Make "policies" the bad guy.

  2. Ahhhh, people can change some behavior. I believe that.

    Marjorie, if the softie behavior is making your job harder, than just toughen up for your own account. I occasionally have been a softie, but once I got the sense I was just doing it to make MYSELF feel better, I was able to stop.

    Think about those folks who DON'T complain and don't test you...are you being fair to them to let others have their way?

    Good luck!

  3. You can even go so far as to pass the buck: "I've been lenient about policy before and had to answer to the department. I don't want to go through that again!"

    Never mind that "answering" and "the department" are nebulous. Then they'll see you as trying to fight the good fight, but being overruled by The Man.

  4. Find a way to be both 'nice' but also firm. Set up a late policy that takes off 2 points for the first day late, 4 for the second, 8 for the third, 16... you get the idea. Try this for missed exams: no make-up exams allowed, but students can sub their final exam score for the missed (or lowest) exam score.

  5. I agree with Darla. I used to be more lenient, but I got tired of it. The first semester I really hammered down, I gained a lot of respect from the students (you aren't there to be their friend), and it made my life SO MUCH EASIER. Once you try it, you'll never go back!

  6. Well, starting tough and staying tough are two different matters entirely. I have a pretty detailed syllabus and I get a lot of yardage from asking student wanting exceptions "and what DOES the syllabus say about . . . .". I also play the "fairness" card: I ask the students how they would feel if they heard that a professor was giving SOME STUDENTS extensions or breaks on deadlines and not others and remind them that they are asking for EXACTLY this sort of treatment. In my experience, students can handle tough and "one size fits all" policies, but they go completely ape when they know they are not being treated fairly [i.e. some students got an extension and others couldn't]. But since I teach something like 800 students this coming semester (the fun begins Tuesday the 16th at 0800!!!!), I feel I need some specific ground rules so I don't get completely swamped with "special cases".
    I look at really big classes kind of like the way I did when I was a lifeguard a million years ago: there is a list of rules on the pool wall, like no running or no horseplay. Any questions, point to the rules.
    Stand your ground. Students really need to learn that deadlines mean something and that some things in life just aren't negotiable. They might not thank you now, but their employers will, in the future!

  7. I don't think I changed my professorial nature, but I certainly have cultivated my reputation. Being a little ornery is like being a little eccentric: generally accepted for academics, and even meritorious in some ways.

    So, for example, I began my career accepting late work at a 20% credit reduction per day. Hey, I was young and reasonable. Then I got sick of judging if that was school days, weekend days, when the clock started, etc. so one year I made it simple: no late work for credit. The students weren't sure I meant it at first, but I did. Now, all I have to say is, "You already know my late work policy, right?" Students talk.

    OK, you do have to Gird Loins a few times at first and say, no, I'm sorry, it's late and I don't accept late work from you or anyone else. But the longer and more consistently you are firm and clear about your policies, the fewer requests for exceptions there will be.

    Still, you never get to 100%, not in this day and age. So sometimes, now, instead of returning late work with just a zero, I just get out a big self-inking stamp with red VOID. I'm serious. They actually thought that was funny, because they know deep down I still love them.

  8. "Adapt!"

    [from Borg neonatal Drone 'First', ST:Voyager episode "Collective")

  9. Darla noted: "Think about those folks who DON'T complain and don't test you...are you being fair to them to let others have their way?" And I was reminded of this exact thing on an evaluation last semester when a student commented that s/he appreciated that I was willing to work with people in "tough spots," but that sometimes saying NO was okay, too, and fairer to everyone else involved.

    So I am attempting this semester what Marjorie wants to do as well: to change my professorial presence and stand firm on policies I set. I was feeling pretty good about it, too, until the bookstore's failure to order my textbooks meant I couldn't start checking the homework assignments as soon as I would have liked. least I'm not excusing a few people; I'm just not checking anyone until week #3 (when hopefully the books will be in).

    So I will stand with you Marjorie. As a therapist once said to me, "What's the worst thing that can happen if you say NO to people once in a while?" Having tried it in other areas of my life, I'm thinking now is a good time to start in my professional life, too.

  10. Whose policies are these? Are they yours? Do you WANT to enforce them? It certainly doesn't sound like you are obliged to do so. Why not write your syllabus to reflect what you actually do rather than some stern ideal?

    A few years ago I changed my late policies to something I preferred to enforce, and which I thought was fairer to my students.

    I have no problem enforcing my policies, and when students ask me to change them, I respond either with: "these are departmental rules, and I am bound to enforce them" or "it is not fair to other students if I make an exception for you" depending on the request.

  11. I used to be lenient too. Then in the same week, one student cried and asked me for an A because "she really needed one A and thought I was nice so I whould give it" to her and another turned in work a week late because he "had too much due in the same week and knew I'd be nice enough take late work" Enough was enough and I now have a syllabus with a policy section that is a yard long- and more importantly I stick to it. I find that building in a couple of escape routes (e.g. a drop your lowest test score clause), calling my rules "department policy" and invoking the magic "to be fair to all students" works really really well- oh and I dont reply to txt language or "hey" emails, which magically results in politely re-phrased requests that I can actually understand. Most students are playing the game "Survivor" and they want to know the rules so they can win!

  12. I can't get over the image of beating puppy dogs.

  13. I'm siding with both rohina and Darla here--first, make sure that you are willing to enforce your policy. I teach freshman-level comp and have tinkered with my late policies over the years and am now using different late policies for low-stakes and high-stakes work. Whatever you decide, always, always keep your promises and follow through on threats. Once you have a policy in place that you can live with, this is a lot easier. If it's in the syllabus, it often is enough to point that out: "I can't take this because it's in the syllabus." Ah, the power of the written word...When making exceptions, keep in mind that fairness rules. I only make exceptions in case of emergencies (death in close family etc.), and I reserve the right to ask for documentation. You can write the framework for exceptions into your syllabus as well. At the end of the day, of course, you will still need to say "no." Saying "no" will be harder and initially demand more energy, but it becomes easier. I've found that in most cases, students just ask for no other reason that it won't hurt them. Many expect a "no." So don't surprise them with a "yes" while compromising your policies.

  14. Earlier in my career, not only did I accept late work, I actually chased the little snowflakes down and asked them to submit it.

    These days, I just note in the syllabus that any late submissions will be docked at a rate of x % per day. (and yes, I count weekends).
    And it is only accepted via the class LMS, so I have a date stamp.

    Roughly the same percentage of flakes fail to submit work on time. But now, it's their problem and not mine.


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