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A Teacher Litmus Test
October 14, 2009 - 11:27pm


Here’s the set-up; you have until Friday at 4:00 to answer:

You’re teaching an introductory survey for non-majors to a lecture hall of 200 students. Since the class is only 50 minutes long, three times a week, you handed out a prompt last Monday for a short take-home essay due Friday by 4:00 p.m. The prompt stipulated that no late essays would be accepted. On Wednesday last week you gave an in-class test of matching, fill-in-the blank, and short answers. You drove your TAs (and yourself) to finish grading and recording all the scores by the end of the weekend.

This Monday you go in and discuss the test in class. As you’re leaving a young man asks if he can speak to you. He’s shy, impeccably polite, and mildly embarrassed: He’s “forgotten” to write and turn in a take-home essay, worth 20% of the midterm total.

“Is there any way I can still do it?” he asks. Tears (his) are a real possibility.

He, like 70 of his classmates, is a first-time freshman at a very large state school. He’s Hispanic, and going by what he says, he's probably the first in his family to attend college. His score for the in-class portion of the test was a mere 50 out of a possible 80. (With the 20 additional points of the take-home essay, the test is worth 100.) Only one other student "forgot" to turn in an essay, but at least she remembered to e-mail with extenuating circumstances a few hours after it was due.

What would you do about the young man? Take his essay? For full or reduced points? How reduced? On what basis, given your policy? Or would you refuse the essay as another sort of pedagogy?


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