I am kind of a sucker for rules. It likely has something to do with the fact that I am kind of obsessive and chaos freaks me out. When I am surrounded by chaos, my adrenaline spikes, my heart rate skyrockets and I start to sweat buckets. Not a pretty sight. So for the most part, I believe in rules. I believe that if they are going to be made and/or written down, they should be followed. Don't even get me started on the drop off line at school. Seriously people - are your kids going to melt in the sunlight if you pull up to the front of the sidewalk like we have been instructed a million times to do? Do they really have to be let out under the awning causing only two other cars to be able to let their kids out behind you? Or carry-on bags on airplanes - is it really necessary to bring Fido and his doggy bed plus your obviously oversized carry-on bag when the rest of us have followed the instruction to bring only one bag? No really, I don't mind wearing my purse as a hat for the entire flight because there aren't two square inches of space anywhere else on the plane left to put it. But I digress...
As usual, a situation (hypothetical, of course) with a student has caused me to think about the way I view rules. And about the way students view rules. My class rules in particular. Let me post the two sections of "rules" regarding my late work policy:
It is my personal policy that no late work is ever accepted for any reason. Due dates are clearly posted on the calendar at the beginning of the semester and you can work ahead to avoid any problems that may arise or prevent you from getting your work done in a timely manner. Allow yourself more time than you think you need to complete classwork. This policy is non-negotiable, and if you think it is going to create a problem, you may want to find another section of this course to take.
The calendar will provide the structural outline for this course. It is really important that you work on the class every day and make sure you adhere to the deadlines on the calendar. Discussions postings will only receive full credit if they are posted by midnight on the due date listed on the calendar. Tests will close at midnight on the deadline day. Failure to take the test before the deadline will result in a grade of zero. Do not wait until the last minute to take the exams - the fact that you waited until 10 pm to take the test only to find out your computer is not working is not an excuse to miss the exam deadline.
I have never really thought that these statements were unclear or ambiguous. Not doing the work results in a grade of zero. I don't care if you have gangrene or Ebola or if your grandmother died of prostate cancer (you think I kid? My aunt had a student use this particular gem of an excuse). It may seem harsh, it may seem mean, it may not even be fair (but I do generally have a very large class curve, I allow you to work as far ahead in the course as you wish and, in moments of weakness, have been known to make an exception if you are in the military or if you notify me of a conflict way in advance).
So if a student misses an exam because he/she misread the calendar is the student likely to be able to make up the exam? No. Not even if the student is busy with kids and the spouse works a lot? No. Not even if the student is an honor student and the course is needed for nursing school and the application is already turned in? No.
Why? Because that is the rule and the student knew from day one of the course that this was the rule. Why else? Because the student assumed that the rules didn't apply in this particular case. The student never took responsibility (or apologized) for missing the exam - blame was placed on the family, then on the class rule, then on the instructor for being mean and unprofessional.
Why is it that a student would think that the rule doesn't apply to them? Why would a student go so far as to contact the dean to try to get the rule changed? Why do so many of the students I teach or talk to think that they are entitled to be the exception to any rule they choose not to follow? I think it is because no one has ever bothered to tell them no and that they are turning into a bunch indulged, entitled brats. All I can say is that if you can't take a test on time because you can't be bothered to read the class calendar correctly, how can I trust that you will bother to learn anything in nursing school before you are unleashed on sick patients? Your actions (or lack thereof) have consequences - sometimes big, sometimes small, but consequences nonetheless. Sometimes you won't get caught, but sometimes you will and you better be ready to pay the price.
I vividly remember the first time I really, truly understood that my choices and actions had consequences. I had gotten a (very) small part in a (very) small play in high school. Rehearsal was after school and I left campus to go get an after school snack or smoke a cigarette or do whatever else I was inclined to do in those days. I went back to school for rehearsal and moseyed in about 5 minutes late. The director promptly fired me and gave my part to someone else. I remember thinking that it seemed so unfair. I wasn't very late - certainly not any later than I often showed up to his class. I really wanted the part. I would never be late to a rehearsal again. I would never be late anywhere again. I couldn't lose the part because I was 5 minutes late! At that very moment, I knew that none of those arguments and no amount of pleading could change one simple fact - I knew the rules and I chose not to follow them. So I kept my mouth shut, walked out and learned a very valuable lesson.
To this day, if I get pulled over for speeding, I just grab my insurance and registration and hand it to the cop with a smile. Am I happy when I get pulled over? No. But I deserve it. I broke the rules.
Most of the time I follow the rules. Sometimes I make up my own rules to follow if I think the ones that I am supposed to follow are dumb. Sometimes I break the rules and get away with it. Sometimes I don't. But I am very, very clear on one thing - if I choose to break the rules then I better to be prepared to suffer the consequences. And if I ever forget that, please fire me from my (very small) role in the play - I obviously need a reminder that there is no one to blame but myself.