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How Late Is Too Late? Kimberly Johnson, a recent graduate of the University of North Dakota, is a first-year English teacher at Valley Middle School in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

It's official! Missing assignments and late work have become the bane of my existence. I've written about this before, but it's a problem that seems to have no easy solutions.

Last week, everyone in our school went to see the Harry Potter movie -- everyone, that is, except those students who had not turned in every assignment for every class. We were only in the second week of the quarter, and students received advanced warning, but I still had more than 30 students with missing assignments -- many were missing three assignments or more.

I try very hard to keep on top of those students, but I know that getting students to complete their assignments is something I need to work on even harder. I try to call parents, but I often end up talking to an answering machine or dialing a number that has been "temporarily disconnected."

I wouldn't assign work in the first place if I didn't think it had value, so I want all my students to do all their assignments. Where should I draw the line for accepting late work? I thought I had resolved to accept work up to two weeks late, but I don't want to discourage my students from doing the work by not giving them points for completing it, even if they turn it in more than two weeks late. On one hand, they need the practice; on the other, they need to learn responsibility and how to meet deadlines. That rock and that hard place have become permanent fixtures in my daily routine.

Late work became a serious issue this past week when word was put out that students with missing assignments could not go to the movie. Last Friday, I found myself bombarded by students who needed another copy of this work sheet or that assignment because they had misplaced the copies I had handed out in the first place. I always ask the print shop for more copies of papers than the number of students I have, yet I always seem to run out.

It figured that on the day I needed to make multiple copies of assignments, both copiers in our school were out of order. One student who was not patient enough to give me time to retrieve copies of all his missing assignments went home and told his mom that I had been passing out assignments that day and didn't have enough copies to give him one. She called the associate principal and suggested I be transferred out of the school. Her anger and my frustration stemmed from a misunderstanding, but what a messy situation it was!

I learned from it to not allow students to circle around me. I think it's because I'm claustrophobic that I become flustered when students come at me the way they did last Friday. Laurie keeps reminding me that this is typical middle school student behavior, but I really let it get to me this time. My post-Thanksgiving resolution is to learn how to handle myself when I feel overwhelmed: Take a deep breath, patiently explain to students that I can help only one at a time, ask them to line up in an orderly fashion, and then proceed to help one student at a time. I hope this will cut down on the number of misunderstandings, miscommunications, and angry parents.

Now if I could only find a way to cut down on the number of missing assignments.

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Article by Kimberly Johnson
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