“I am very sorry. It is going to happen again”
Maintain your commitment to classroom organization and management all the way through the end of the year.
On a small table in the back of my classroom, there is a folder labeled “No Name, No Grade.” My students know that whenever an assignment is turned in without a heading that identifies its owner, I place the ungraded work in that folder. The system has transformed accusations (“I didn’t get mine back, and you know I did that paper, Ms. Smith!”) into quiet trips back to the folder. “This is mine. I must have forgotten to put my name on in. Can I turn it in now? How many points do I lose because it’s late?”
The system saves me the headache of figuring out whose handwriting a paper looks like, and it places responsibility for ownership back on the students. It works well, despite the occasional moment when two students try to take credit for the same unlabelled assignment. We address those issues after class, when I look at the work to see if I can tell whose it is. Often I’ll remember helping a student with the paper or I’ll recognize a student’s style or script. If I do, the student who tried to falsely claim the work receives the normal penalty for cheating. If I can’t settle the debate, no one gets credit for the work. Overall, I believe it is a tough but fair way to teach an important lesson: Check your papers before you turn them in to make sure there are no errors. A part of that check should be making sure you wrote your name at the top of the page.
I share the system not only to introduce a management idea, but to provide context for a comment one student made after finding his paper in the folder marked “No Name, No Grade.” His name was Luis, and his English was limited. He was hesitant to speak in class, but felt comfortable communicating with me through e-mail. And after he recovered his unlabelled paper, he wrote me a note that I still have saved on my computer.
To: my favorit teacher Mrs. Smith
i am very sorry that i forgot to put my name in my project, it is going to happen again.
Of course, he meant to communicate that it would never happen again, but forgot to edit his e-mail — just as he forgot to edit his assignment before turning it in. Still, the message made me smile. It was a reminder that many of our students’ intentions are good and that their efforts are honest. It was a reminder that I should keep my faith and my patience, because kids make mistakes even when you have systems in place to teach them and to hold them accountable. Moreover, they sometimes make the same mistake again and again.
So as we enter the last few months of the school year, remember to maintain the systems you have established. Make sure that your commitments to classroom organization and management stay very strong. But also direct some of that strength to maintaining your belief in students who frustrate you as they repeatedly make the same academic or behavioral error. As Luis inadvertently reminded me, “it is going to happen again” even as we approach the end of the second semester.
Continue to embrace your students, even as they stumble while approaching the finish line. You have helped them get this far. Focus on their progress instead of expressing disbelief that on occasion, they seem to forget everything you’ve worked on this semester — even something as basic as checking to make sure their name is at the top of a page. At this point, more than ever, they need to know that you your faith will persist no matter how many times you need to revisit the lessons. Like mistakes, encouraging words can be repeated — and they should be — again and again and again.