Classroom policy that includes rigid due dates and inflexible deadlines is likely counter-productive and damaging to your students for the following eight reasons:

  1. It distorts learning outcomes.  When a rigid deadline prevents a student from turning in work that they are able to do – and that missing work is a component of the final grade, the report on learning is missing valuable information about what a student knows and is able to do.
  2. It causes students to give up.  Inflexible due dates that come and go create a hurdle for future student performance.  Students may or may not have a reason that is acceptable to the teacher for not meeting the deadline.  However, when prevention of turning in work impacts the final grade outcome, it becomes more difficult to motivate an already potentially under-motivated student after they have missed an assignment.
  3. It makes learning optional.  When the primary motivation for a student to complete work is to avoid punitive grading practices like points off for late work or zeros, mathematics and gaming of points become the goal of many.  If a student is satisfied with simply passing or doesn’t have an inherent desire for high marks, not doing difficult or time-consuming tasks become rational choices.
  4. It doesn’t respect the complexity of student lives.  A student may not meet deadlines for a variety of reasons – some deemed “acceptable” and others not.  However, all reasons are likely rational to the student.  Perhaps a challenging course load is forcing students to choose between sleep and school work completion.  Perhaps it is mental health, poverty, or access to resources that is the lead cause.  Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs might be at the root of the “apathy.”  Violence or addiction may also be a cause.  Personality conflicts, personal tragedies, poor time management skills, lack of understanding, family commitments, cultural hurdles, or a myriad of other reasons could be why a student isn’t completing the assignment.  Expecting a student to communicate potentially embarrassing hurdles to their completion will likely not end up with favorable results.
  5. It sends the wrong message about the purpose of the assignment.  The main purpose of a teacher is to teach.  The main purpose of a learning task is to learn.  When a policy in place sends the message that the mere completion of a task supersedes the learning meant to take place or the role of a teacher is to simply manage said completion, the task itself becomes devalued and the relationship between teacher and pupil is degraded.  This is when work completion enters the realm of a power struggle.
  6. It abdicates responsibility to inspire.  Students will complete quality work on time if they find it valuable to do so.  Hiding behind the false pretense of student apathy or lack of motivation/respect puts all the blame on the student.  The teacher has a responsibility to demonstrate the value of the content and how the learning tasks align.  It is true that some students are more difficult to inspire than others – this is the job.
  7. It puts a deadline and limit on learning.  It cannot be argued that any learning task that is so critically important to the outcome of student learning should not be able to be completed.  Any argument to the contrary is absolutely putting a deadline and limit on learning.  If we are to meet students where they are and get them to where we need them to be, we need to accept that some students will be ready to complete the task at a later time than others.
  8. Is not teaching the responsibility or accountability you think it is.  Holding students responsible for the work and accountable for deadlines must ultimately include completion and proper intervention.  Simply punishing the lack of responsibility with punitive grading is not the same as teaching responsibility and certainly isn’t holding the student accountable.

For a few ideas on how to motivate students to complete work without the use of punitive grading, see my post, 15 Strategies for Motivating Students that Don’t Involve Punitive Grading

11 thoughts on “8 Reasons Your Deadline Policy Is Damaging to Your Students

  1. Of course, they will be woefully unprepared for college, and even less unprepared for the real world. This isn’t “empowering”, it’s hamstringing and counterproductive.

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    1. Thanks for the read and the comment – it gives me the opportunity to clarify.

      The point I am attempting to make in this post is that using punitive grading as a “punishment” isn’t effective if the goal is to get students to do the work. There are other ways of holding students accountable for deadlines.

      If a student is satisfied with a lower grade, a “punishment” of 20% off or not allowing them to turn it in at all, isn’t much of a consequence or a motivator. Arguing to the opposite is to say that it is currently working. I can attest that it is isn’t – there are a ton of students who “get by” with not doing a significant proportion of their school work because they do just enough to earn the magic percent they need to in order to pass.

      If a student is experiencing obstacles to their work completion that go beyond a simple choice (in my experience it is usually more complicated than a simple choice), a grade consequence is simply mean.

      Finally, in the “real world” we are not usually faced with menial tasks that have little value. In the “school world” students face menial tasks every day. A rigid deadline policy is only an extrinsic motivator. If we’ve only trained students to respond to extrinsic motivations, then that is when we’ve made them “woefully less prepared for college and the real world.” We need to stop hiding behind punitive grading that requires students to comply. Instead, we need to inspire them to want to learn more.

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  2. Thoughtful stuff. I believe in the importance of students understanding a deadline/due date. They will encounter them throughout their adult lives, and missing them often has impactful consequences. (The water bill, etc.) However, we teachers can sometimes go overboard with due dates. I think this post is not saying we should toss out due dates, but rather that we should evaluate how much we use them, and how often they are used in a too-stringent manner.

    I’ve relaxed considerably with my due date mentality over the years. I still have some that are no-compromise deadlines, but I’m more flexible with others, especially with things in our digital workflow. I use OneNote’s Class Notebook a lot. I tell students something is due by midnight on X-day, but it isn’t late until I start grading and get to theirs. That encourages some who need extra time to keep working on a task if it hasn’t been entered in the online gradebook yet. Sometimes I notice a student didn’t finish an assignment, and I’ll skip grading that person’s work until later. It doesn’t really affect my time grading or the workflow. Sometimes it takes me a few days to get through all my students’ work for a single assignment, so why not grade the ones that are finished first, when that is a feasible process?

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    1. Exactly!!! Just because you miss the deadline for your water bill doesn’t mean the utility company is going to automatically shut off your water and refuse to let you pay it. Sometimes, there is a grace period. Even if not, you start with a lower-level consequence (late fee). If you continue to not pay, you’ll get a notice that advanced action is going to occur. Eventually, your water will be shut off. BUT you still have to pay. You end up with a collection agency and ultimately a court order – but you still have to pay.

      Using this analogy, a student misses a deadline, the consequence can’t be to not do the work. A lower level consequence (work through lunch until it is completed, loss of freedom of choice during a study hall, etc.) If that isn’t successful, notice home that advanced action needs to be taken if the work isn’t turned in (after-school work with teacher?) If still not successful, more actions (loss of access to athletic events/ social events). Once the work is in (“the bill is paid in full”) the student’s grade isn’t negatively affected.

      Missing deadlines is a behavior problem, not an academic problem. It only makes sense to treat behavior problems with behavior consequences. It is not justifiable to treat a behavior issue with an academic consequence. Who would argue to treat an academic issue with a behavior consequence? “You tried and failed your math test – suspension for you.”

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  3. I agree to your last reply except that I feel unable to provide those consequences you talked about. Nutrition breaks and lunch times are now considered sacred. You can’t keep a child in to complete work as new studies are showing it is detrimental to their health and well-being. You can’t send work home as homework is now regarded publicly as inappropriate and ineffectual. Whole school boards are banning homework! Also, technically, we aren’t supposed to use work done at home for assessment purposes.We can’t keep children after school because buses need to be caught and parents will certainly not support coming to pick their child up after school for this reason! What are teachers to do?

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