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Teaching and Learning

Student Deadlines and Extensions

October 20, 2017, Author: Chris Breen

One of the least satisfying aspects of teaching comes at assignment submission time. Suddenly my email inbox is flooded with all sorts of pleas for late submission.

This year I decided to do something different. A month before the assignment was due I sent out the following email:

Sent: Tuesday, May 9, 2017 5:50 PM
Subject: Chris Breen assignment: Due Date 5th June

Hi Everyone

I hope you have educated that outer witness so that you are satisfying your curiosity about yourself in action.

Your assignment is due on the 5th June.

Please do not email me on the 5th June asking for an extension because your cat has eaten your dog or any other extra-ordinary excuse! In fact, do not write to me to ask for an extension – you will be wasting valuable time.

Your assignment is due on the 5th June. Make a plan now to make sure it is submitted on time. Expect something to go wrong.

There is a margin of error for those of you who lack the necessary discipline or are experts at procrastination…. 2 days only. The folder for the assignment will be closed at 23.55 on 7th June. I will mark all assignments immediately after the closure of the folder. Any assignment not in the folder when it closes will receive a mark of 0.

Look forward to reading your insightful assignments.

All the best.



Surprise, surprise – I had 100% submission by the 8th June!

So in my naivety I assumed the class had learned the lesson so I did not send out a similar warning before the second assignment which is due by midnight tonight (20th October 2017).

Two days ago I received the following email.


Sent: 18 October 2017 16:38

Subject: Request for Extension

Dear Prof Breen

After much deliberation and in the hope that I will meet your assignment deadline, I wish to humbly request for an extension.

I am currently in New York attending … (a very important meeting)

I am 40% complete but due to a very heavy schedule, I am strained at meeting my assignment deadline. I am the focal person for this weeks events starting everyday at 8am and concluding at 6pm with High level dinner engagements in the evenings that is not affording me the opportunity to completed my assignment. Prior to my NYC mission I was also part of a technical team to draft reports on ….which also compromised and impacted negatively on my academic schedule.

I am really enjoying working on the assignment following our conversation in July, as it directly relates to my current work situation, and I plan to conclude with very interesting conclusions.

I return to South Africa on the 25th October and would highly appreciate an opportunity to submit on the 31st October 2017.

I certainly hope that you will please find it in your heart to afford me the opportunity to extend until the 31st October, this is by no means a lack of planning however it has been extremely difficult physically and mentally to manage the multiple deliverables and take, however I am doing the best I can.

I thank you in advance Prof Breen for your understanding and favorable consideration.



This writer is good and knows how to make a case. And, of course, the compassionate part of me wants to be friendly and helpful. But another part of me is in touch with the unfairness of giving one person an extension of an extra 11 days when this option is not open to others who may be in a similar current situation but have made a plan. And, of course, all the credibility about adherence to deadlines that I established through the first assignment would go out the window if I did give the requested extension.

And so I wrote the following:

From: Chris Breen

Sent: Thursday, 19 October 2017 8:19 AM

Nice try. I’m impressed with the power of your words and plea-bargaining.

First off, you give me a story based on how hard your life is at the moment. I really believe you and feel your pain. But the assignment was given in July so this point really just points to a lack of planning because I am sure this trip and responsibility was not suddenly sprung on you!

And then you appeal to my heart! What makes you think I have one??

So please send me a new email that goes something like this:

“Chris, I’m sorry. I have screwed up. I did not plan my work and time properly and so I have not completed your assignment. My current situation is such that there is no hope of getting it to you on Friday. Please hear that I am really sorry and I have learnt a lesson about the need to really make choices and plan my time better. I would like to still submit my assignment but this is likely only to happen at the end of the month. If possible, please could you allow the folder to be kept open until the end of October so that I can submit it then. I know that there will be a marks penalty for this late submission”.

I look forward to receiving this revised letter before Friday midnight…

All the best for your challenging work week.



It’s deadline day and I’m waiting to see what will develop…