Late submission of assignments is a routine issue faced by teachers. It’s not uncommon for students to struggle with time management, personal obligations, or unforeseen circumstances that lead to missed deadlines. Educators are divided on the best approach to dealing with late work, and while some say it’s unacceptable, others believe that a more lenient stance is better in the long run. Which of these arguments holds more merit?
Teachers should accept late work within reason. A strict deadline policy, while good for highlighting the importance of time management and consistent standards, can do more harm than good in the long run. A more lenient approach, where late admissions don’t directly translate to zero, shows understanding and compassion, which is more likely to promote positive student responses in the future.
This article explores whether teachers should accept late work, weighing the advantages and disadvantages of such a practice. By examining different perspectives and considering the impact on students’ learning outcomes, you will gain insight into this contentious issue and craft an approach that doesn’t do a disservice to you or your students.
If a student comes to you with a justifiable excuse and has proof to back up their claim, extending their deadline without any point deductions is the sensible way to go.
For example, if they ask to submit their work later due to health-related issues and can present a medical note from a doctor, it will be unreasonable to refuse their request.
Or, if you are contacted by the student’s parents about a family matter, like the death of a loved one or the need to travel urgently, you should accept this as a genuine reason and grant the student some extra time to submit their work.
However, what happens if a student’s justification is unprovable, or they don’t want to explain why they’ve missed the deadline?
In that case, there are different factors to consider, so the teacher needs to take a more calculated approach before deciding whether to accept any late submissions or not. Nonetheless, it’s always best to be balanced in your resolve and contemplate both sides of the argument.
Tolerating late work is not a sign of weakness or bad teaching practice as it does have some potential benefits, especially in the long run. Here are reasons to support why teachers should accept late submissions from students.
Better Quality Work
Though teaching the importance of time management and responsibility is undoubtedly a big part of setting an assignment, students producing good-quality work is even more significant in the grand scheme of things.
Work that is rushed to meet a deadline will likely be below expectations and not accurately portray a student’s skills and abilities.
That’s why most teachers agree that giving students an extra day or two can be the difference between receiving a sub-par submission to one that is of a good standard.
Moreover, if a student knows that they can’t meet the deadline and that the teacher will not show any leniency in this regard, they probably won’t even bother at all.
If extending the deadline by a few days pushes your students to make an effort and produce good-quality work, the compromise is most likely worth it. After all, the main objectives of an assignment are to consolidate the learning and assess students’ level of understanding. Not accepting late work jeopardizes these goals.
Helps Build a Supporting Learning Environment
Perhaps the most meaningful benefit of accepting late work is the positive learning environment it promotes.
When teachers show leniency toward missed deadlines, they create an atmosphere of support and encouragement, which are fundamental characteristics that help students to develop and improve.
For instance, accepting late work allows students to rectify their mistakes rather than worry about the inevitable repercussions. It encourages them to continue working on assignments even if they miss the initial deadline, fostering a growth mindset and perseverance.
Students also feel more comfortable seeking assistance and clarification, knowing their teacher is approachable and helpful. By promoting open dialogue, we can better understand the reasons behind late submissions and offer appropriate support and guidance.
On the other hand, a no-tolerance policy for late submissions will instill fear and pessimism, having a detrimental effect on progress.
Ultimately, an environment where students feel valued and encouraged will boost their motivation, engagement, and participation, which undoubtedly results in better learning outcomes in the long run.
Demonstrates Compassion and Understanding
In connection with building a supportive learning environment, teachers should accept late work to show and encourage the ideals of compassion and understanding.
Students, though young, are people with real problems and challenges, just like the rest of us. Therefore, showing some sympathy and consideration can go a long way as they grow into well-adjusted adults and become considerate members of society.
Furthermore, unexpected events occur, and there is often a valid reason preventing a student from submitting an assignment on time. In such cases, teachers should assess the situation empathetically and exercise tolerance.
Remember that you never fully know what students are going through in and outside of school, so giving them the benefit of the doubt with late submissions can avoid adding further stress to their lives.
Enhances Student-Teacher Relationship
We all remember our favorite teacher(s). They made learning fun and accessible, took the time to get to know each student, and supported and encouraged us. Conclusively, the teaching and learning experience is a whole lot better with strong student-teacher relationships.
And when teachers accept late work, they can improve their bond with students in a number of ways. First, the extra time given to complete an assignment demonstrates that the teacher cares about students’ progress and is invested in their success.
Secondly, it can lead to enhanced communication and more meaningful interactions. If students can rely on their teachers to be understanding about missed deadlines, the parties will be more honest with each other.
Consequently, the teacher’s leniency can strengthen mutual trust and respect, which will undoubtedly help create a better classroom community and lead to better academic outcomes.
Promotes Flexibility and Adaptability
Life is unpredictable, and events out of our control happen to us all. So, in today’s fast-paced world, adaptability is a crucial skill.
The choice to accept late work can become a learning opportunity for students because it teaches them to adjust their plans and adapt to unexpected situations.
For example, a student with genuine intentions to complete an assignment on time may encounter computer issues, like their laptop not working or not having a reliable internet connection.
Instead of giving up and conceding defeat, the student is motivated to seek solutions. This may involve finding an alternative device or taking a trip to a public library to do their work.
Accepting late work cultivates flexibility, which in turn encourages students to be versatile and resilient. This adaptability extends beyond academics and prepares students for the obstacles they may encounter in their personal and professional lives.
Greater Opportunity for Creativity and New Ideas
Deadlines are inescapable and serve important functions. Knowing when something has to be submitted puts the onus on the individual, who can then take measured steps to meet the requirements.
The issue is that our best effort and work do not always align with the parameters of deadlines. Sometimes, great ideas come to us after the due date.
That is why when students are given the opportunity to submit late work, they are more likely to explore alternative approaches and think imaginatively to complete their assignments.
For example, if a student gets a spark of innovation the night before the assignment is due, they may be reluctant to use or build on it due to limited time. However, if they know the deadline is somewhat flexible, the student will be more motivated and inspired to pursue the new idea.
This extra leeway allows for better ideas and unique perspectives to emerge, fostering a culture of creativity and originality.
Similar to the importance of being adaptable, accepting late work encourages students to develop their problem-solving skills when finding solutions to overcome challenges.
They learn to identify the underlying issues that caused the late submission and can work on strategies to prevent similar situations in the future.
There are several reasons why students fail to meet deadlines; the assignment being unclear or too complicated is a common excuse given. In such cases, the student will learn to recognize this as an obstacle, so they can take the initiative by approaching the teacher for further clarity.
Essentially, teachers can help students develop their self-management capabilities in a meaningful way, empowering them to be more responsible and independent.
This problem-solving mindset is a valuable skill that prepares students for the demands and expectations they will face beyond the classroom.
Does Not Limit Participation
Denying a student’s late submission will damage their confidence and motivation. The guilt of turning in an assignment late is hard enough, but to then witness your grade plummet can cause major distress.
It is not rare for students to feel dejected and lose interest in their studies after having their work dismissed. Consequently, their participation in class and the quality of their work take a turn for the worse.
In addition, it is worth noting that content covered in lessons are often closely connected, with topics overlapping and prior knowledge being built on constantly with new information.
So, students who miss assignment deadlines will likely lose out on related educational experiences. In other words, refusing to accept late work can exclude students from future learning and involvement.
Not only does a strict policy on late submissions directly affect the grade and motivation of students, but the resulting constraints on their participation will place them at a greater disadvantage.
To prevent this downward spiral, teachers should strive to maximize student participation, even if it means accepting late submissions.
Avoid Potential Tension With Parents and Administrators
In an ideal world, teachers will prioritize their students’ academic and personal development and be trusted to operate with this intention in mind. This means that parents and administrators work with the teacher, offering guidance and support when needed but counting on the teacher’s abilities and judgment for the most part.
Unfortunately, this is not the reality, and frictions between teachers and administrators/parents occasionally occur.
One area where differences of opinion come to light is grading. Teachers may set clear expectations and guidelines regarding assessment and grades, but this does not make them immune to scrutiny.
Parents and administrators will demand sufficient justification, especially when marks are taken off or grades are lowered. And pointing to a student’s late submission of work may not be met with understanding and support.
To save yourself the trouble of dealing with irate parents or administrators, it might be better to take a more lenient approach to missed deadlines.
The reasons above recommend why teachers should accept late work. This standpoint is supported by Dana Cole, a fellow teacher who explains her point of view about embracing compassion and flexibility in the video below:
However, this school of thinking has its limits too. One would rightfully argue that grading a student who didn’t meet the deadline the same as one who did is unfair and transmits the wrong message to young minds.
Besides this, there are other reasons why not accepting late work may sometimes be the better option.
Is it always a good idea to accept late work? Some educators say no, and here’s why:
Deadlines Promote Self-Management Skills
The main argument against accepting late work is that the purpose and importance of deadlines become eroded.
Setting and adhering to deadlines are an integral part of the learning process. By sticking to deadlines, students grasp how to manage themselves better.
First, they develop essential time management skills as they learn to prioritize work, break the task into manageable chunks, plan ahead, and complete assignments promptly. Students will not have the incentive to organize their time most effectively if there is no deadline or it is loosely implemented.
Next, the ability to adhere to deadlines is a good indicator of someone’s level of discipline. If students demonstrate the effort and commitment to submit assignments on time, then they can replicate this resolve in other aspects of their lives. For instance, disciplined students are more likely to accomplish their goals due to the increased focus and control they have developed with practice.
Deadlines can also instill a sense of responsibility. By setting and sticking to an assignment submission date, teachers are empowering students to fulfill their obligations. This sense of responsibility helps to create a more productive learning environment where students understand their role and can focus on meeting expectations.
Hence, deadlines serve a vital role in the promotion of essential self-management skills, so they should be adhered to.
Avoid Developing a Bad Habit
As mentioned above, meeting deadlines requires effort, perseverance, and commitment. If teachers want to promote these qualities and instill a strong work ethic in students, they must be stricter about accepting late work.
Otherwise, students cannot be blamed for displaying counterproductive habits like procrastination and an inability to manage their time effectively.
For example, when teachers are relaxed about submissions, students will likely delay completing assignments until the last minute and put less effort into their studies. Consequently, the work produced (if any) is of a lower standard and will not reflect their true potential.
Furthermore, giving one student a pass for missing a deadline may encourage others to follow suit. Not only one class but other classes taught by the teacher would start submitting their assignments late.
And without any form of consequence for missing deadlines, a cycle of late submissions will quickly perpetuate. It’s best to nip it in the bud before it becomes a bigger issue.
Once is a mistake. Twice is a pattern. Three times is a habit.
Fairness and Consistency
Students place a great deal of importance on fairness and justice. So if deadlines are extended for some but not others, it can lead to resentment and demotivation. Hence, accepting late work can create a perception of favoritism or unfairness among students.
By not accepting late work under any circumstance (except in rare cases), teachers ensure a level playing field for all, reinforcing the principles of impartiality and equity in the classroom.
Consistency is also a key element of effective classroom management. Teachers should establish clear rules and expectations for all students and uphold these standards as best as possible.
Showing empathy and understanding is one thing, but a teacher who sticks to their word and is consistent will receive more respect and cooperation from students.
For instance, if a teacher sets a deadline but doesn’t stand by it, their students are less likely to be convinced or assured about anything else that teacher says. This could include setting future deadlines or even the instructions given in the classroom.
Upholding the expectations consistently, on the other hand, helps to build trust and credibility while minimizing any confusion, anxiety, or stress students may experience.
Therefore, not accepting late work contributes toward a fairer and more harmonious classroom environment.
Prepares Students for the Real World
Punctuality is a virtue that extends beyond academic settings, and students must understand that deadlines are a common occurrence even outside of school. So, by making sure that work gets handed in on time, teachers better prepare students for life beyond the classroom. This includes a number of elements.
First, deadlines set by a teacher mimic the time constraints and standards that students will encounter in their future careers. Every workplace expects professionalism, reliability, and commitment from its workforce, and students can start developing these traits by meeting deadlines in school.
Not forgetting that the ability to manage time effectively is essential for academic, professional, and personal advancement.
Teachers also help students build the discipline needed to excel in higher education and their careers. And by allowing students to experience the consequences of their actions, they learn accountability and the importance of fulfilling commitments (as discussed above).
Furthermore, the value of punctuality is taught as students recognize that meeting deadlines is a sign of respect for others’ time, which is a characteristic that will serve them well when building relationships.
By instilling these skills early on, teachers equip students with valuable tools for future success.
On the contrary, accepting late work can undermine the importance of these traits, and students who are accustomed to submitting work late may struggle to adapt to a professional setting.
While in school, turning in an assignment late might result in a lower grade at worse. Later in life, it can lead to tensions with others, impacts on health, missed job opportunities, or even getting fired.
Inconvenience for the Teacher
It is well-known that a teacher’s day is busy with a long list of duties that need to be fulfilled. High up on that list is the responsibility to assess and provide timely feedback to students. This is only made harder for the teacher when students submit their work late.
Most teachers allocate specific times for grading. So, if an assignment is handed in after the teacher is done grading other students, it creates a backlog for the teacher and may mean that the late assignment goes unmarked.
Fundamentally, delayed assessment, or not assessing at all, will impede the timely progression of the curriculum and disrupt the flow of teaching and learning.
By enforcing deadlines, such inconvenience can be solved and enable teachers to accurately assess students’ progress and provide prompt feedback.
Your willingness to give your students the benefit of the doubt should always have its limits, most of the time for their own good. As a teacher, you have a responsibility to help students grow into not only knowledgeable but also well-adjusted adults.
Enabling students who perpetually turn in their work late or grade them similarly to their classmates who made an effort to meet the deadlines can send a detrimental message that will hold them back later on in life.
That’s why still enforcing some assignment guidelines is essential in teaching students the importance of time management and taking responsibility. However, there is a way to do that without derailing their academic journey.
How To Best Deal with Late Work
Extreme approaches are rarely effective, so you’ll want to strike a balance between providing second chances and holding students accountable for their actions, i.e., finding a middle ground that can encourage your students to make an effort while still stressing the importance of good time management can go a long way.
In general, the most practical option would be to accept late work within a reasonable window of time. So, if students fail to meet the initial deadline for whatever reason, they still have an opportunity to turn in their work. But when that window passes, it’s time to move on.
Another factor to consider is the implementation of any late penalties. When it comes to illness or other extreme circumstances, taking an understanding approach should be the obvious action. But for students who repeatedly demonstrate poor self-management and a lack of motivation, some form of consequence can serve as a reminder of the expectations.
My suggestion would be to create a system in which an X-day delay translates into an X-point deduction.
For example, if the work gets turned in 1-2 days late, there’ll be an automatic five or 10-point deduction on the assignment. That way, the students can still get a good grade if they produce good-quality work while also learning a lesson on the importance of self-management skills.
Moreover, this type of system can push students to input more effort. Let’s say a student recognizes they won’t be able to turn in their work on time. That means they’ll be extra motivated to submit an excellent assignment since they know they’ll be starting at a 5-point deficit.
Though there are currently no concrete studies to support such arguments, many teachers (including myself) have first-hand experience of how work submitted late can often exceed expectations. Whether that’s because of fewer time constraints or the incentive to do better due to having fewer points available is up for discussion.
Another advantage of this approach is that it helps you grade your students based on their actual assimilation of the subject, not arbitrary timelines.
A zero on an assignment can have a much more significant impact on one’s academic journey than you’d think, and it’s a far too severe form of punishment based on a single instance of poor time management.
Principally, to avoid confusion and frustration, teachers should establish clear expectations regarding assignment deadlines from the beginning. By clearly communicating due dates, late submission policies, and any potential penalties, students can plan their time accordingly and understand the consequences of submitting work late.
Whichever approach you choose, enforcing it consistently is fundamental.
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question, “Should teachers accept late work,” and your response to the situation will depend on your teaching style and circumstances. However, it usually pays to be reasonably flexible with timelines and allow students to turn in their work rather than have them not bother at all.
You can still develop a system where turning assignments in X days late leads to an X-point reduction. That way, you’ll keep your students motivated to complete assignments while influencing them to make more responsible choices in the future.
- Faculty Focus: An Argument for Accepting Late Work
- The New York Times: Many Teens Report Emotional and Physical Abuse by Parents During Lockdown
- Psychology Today: Why Does My Teen Procrastinate?
- Edutopia: Fact Check: Are Flexible Student Deadlines at Odds With Real Life?
- GIIS Tokyo: The importance of time management in a student’s life
- National Library of Medicine: Academic failure and students’ viewpoint: The influence of individual, internal and external organizational factors – PMC
- The Digit Teachers: Should Teachers Accept Late Work?
- Cult of Pedagogy: A Few Ideas for Dealing with Late Work