The Clock Strikes Midnight: An Argument Against the “Pumpkin Rule”

The pandemic has caused educators around the world to rethink why they do what they do. We were all asked to be flexible for students, and during this time I decided to revisit the hard and fast due dates, or what I call the “pumpkin rule”. You know the rule; the one that says students must submit their assignments by midnight on a specific date or not have the assignment accepted. Perhaps my eagerness to re-examine hard and fast due dates was influenced by the fact that my earliest childhood memory of the education system is of a freshman experience when I received no an article I had worked hard on. The teacher announced that several students had failed to put their names on their papers and that as such had received an F. They could come and collect them, she added; I did not do it. Pierced into my memory was an image of my paper with neatly colored pictures on the classroom floor with a capital F written in red ink and circled. He had been trampled and torn. I didn’t dare pick it up. Let’s just say that I entered the world of education with a feeling of mistrust towards the rules and the sanctions imposed by certain teachers. Conversations with my students today lead me to believe that many of my colleagues practice similar arbitrary approaches to dealing with delays, delays, missing names, etc. We know the argument: if there are no consequences, students will continue to engage in these behaviors. But I have never been a strong believer in such ideas. Is the penalty really a prejudice or just a way to penalize students with attention problems? Since the pandemic, I have learned to let go of some of these ideas altogether.

From spring 2020, I started using a new method: The Date To Keep on Track (DTKOT). I have asked students to aim to hand in their assignments by these dates. There was no penalty for not being DTKOT submitted, and I did for all assignments, including the final draft. I encouraged students to review their schedules and decide what worked best for them as a deadline for the major project. I let them know that as long as I got their assignment on time to submit my grades on time, that was fine with me. I admit that I was a little apprehensive about what could happen if everyone decided to submit their projects at the end of December. However, to hedge my bets, I let my students know that if they submitted the project before the exam (and with enough time for me to grade it before the exam), and if their grade at that time If there was an A (including their grade on the project), they would be exempt from the review. To my surprise, I did not receive an abundance of submissions by the latest possible due date. Instead, projects came in at a steady pace. Some before the Thanksgiving holiday, some during, and some after. I received three to five submissions a day for several weeks.

The amazing by-product was that I no longer got incredibly anxious about having to do all my filing at once. Who wants 60 projects submitted on the same day to be graded? Having a DTKOT got me going. I could grade a few projects at a time and I could give my students immediate feedback on their projects. Previously, students would leave for the semester before I could return their projects with feedback. Sometimes I thought to myself, “What was the use of all that tedious writing and commentary if the students had never seen it? Now I’m able to make sure students get their feedback while the assignment is still fresh in their minds. I love it and my students too. I can actually take advantage of the time before the holidays and ease the stress, both for myself and for my students. This month of December marks my fourth edition of the DTKOT. Students can allocate and divide their time to complete the final project while working on other assignments for other classes. Thanks to this, my class grades have improved. Students report that they would like more teachers to do this. One student told me she would take any class I offered, even one on a subject she didn’t like because of the flexibility DTKOT gave her.

We know from research on self-determination theory that a sense of control is important for motivation. Allowing students the flexibility and ability to control their end-of-semester experience helps motivate them. Additionally, providing timely feedback is an added benefit and potential motivator. In the workplace, adults are not always subject to arbitrary, hard and fast deadlines. Often, we can work with our employers to set a pace that we feel is feasible and likely to produce quality work. Why do we deny this opportunity to our students? And just as important, why are we adding stress to ourselves and the students by waiting for the clock to strike midnight?

Dr. Kathy Glyshaw is an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where she teaches in the psychology department. She has also taught at Loyola University of Maryland, American University, and the University of Delaware, where she earned her doctorate in clinical psychology. Dr. Glyshaw worked for almost 20 years in the field of mental health at the college level before devoting herself more to teaching.

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