Make me an offer…

Jean Hein, the esteemed and totally hard-working editor of this august publication, recently invited me to write a piece on some of the struggles that teachers face.

She said,

I know that there are — sometimes — school or departmental policies, but teachers frequently have to set their own.

Truer words were never spoken. 

Areas where a teacher may have to set his or her own policies could include: 

  • What do we do when a student misses a lab?
  • How do we handle late work?
  • If a student will be out of class for an extended period — like a      unsanctioned vacation — what do we do?
  • Is homework completion checked? Is it formative or summative?
  • How do we make sure that students are prepared for a lab? Pre-lab questions? Pre-lab quiz?

First off, I don’t check homework. In grades 11 and 12, I consider this to be a waste of class time. The far more important lesson comes with the consequences of not completing homework — that’ll learn ‘em.

After 32+ years of begging, chasing, cajoling, penalizing, calling or emailing (parents/grandparents/guardians/ neighbours/family friends and cleaning ladies) — one time I even went to a boy’s house to find out what was going on — really, I did — I have given up on policies.

I deal with students in good faith; we work together towards the successful outcome. 

Further, every situation is unique:

Didn’t hand in the lab? 
Make me an offer. 
Next Monday? 

Missed the lab for a soccer tournament?
Make me an offer.
Can you come in on Thursday at 7:45 am?

Sir, I’ll be missing four classes. My cousin’s getting married in California.
Make me an offer?
Can I read ahead? I’ll work with our class webpage. My friend John will help me.

I don’t do penalties.1 They are too difficult to keep track of, yet alone enforce. I’m a terrible “bad cop”; I suck at delivering punishment.2 In my mind, we need to simply incentivize a student to do the work. And the best way to decide how to do this is to talk to the offender; negotiate, if you will.

A cooperative approach, at least in my experience, works best. Sure, there will be abuses of your kindness… what are you gonna do?

There’s always karma.


  1. A late penalty is unnecessary. The fact that work is outstanding while we’re covering new material is penalty enough.
  2. In the bad ol’ days, I wouldn’t be givin’ the strap, either. (Note to Sister Mary — rest her soul: I deserved it.)