Last week one of my students submitted an assignment that was handwritten. The problem? I don't accept handwritten assignments, only typed. I've made this policy abundantly clear on numerous occasions: on the syllabus, during in-class announcements, and in a direct email to the student.
The next class I handed the assignment back, ungraded.
The student was incredulous. "Do you really mean that you're not accepting this?"
Yes. That's really what I had meant.
Still, I left our exchange unsettled, replaying the conversation in my head, rehashing it with Joel, bristling with indignation that although he was in the wrong for not complying with standards, he was blaming me for holding those standards. For some reason, I couldn't shake off my frustration.
Later that evening I received a ticket for parking in a restricted lot. Although I knew that I wasn't allowed to park there during the day, I thought that the lot was fair game at night. Obviously, my assumption was wrong. The next morning as I approached the parking office to pay my fine, I greeted the teller with a simple message: an apology for parking in an illegal zone.
The teller looked at me and physically took a step back. "I've never had anyone apologize before, and I've worked here for five years," he explained.
Then, he reduced my fine.
Have you noticed that our approach to our wrongdoings makes a difference? We all mess up. We all have times when we don't meet the standards -- whether out of ignorance, or whether out of intent. But our willingness to accept personal responsibility is a crucial factor that influences how others respond to our mistakes.
I need to model this in my own life. We're raising our daughters to be responsible for their actions and accountable for the subsequent consequences. If their college professor returned a handwritten assignment back to them, ungraded, I hope their response would be one of acceptance and humility. "I'm sorry. I messed up, and I accept the consequences. I won't make that mistake again."
Who knows? In responding this way, their fine might be reduced. At any rate, they'll have done the honorable thing.
Even better yet, I hope that they would type the assignment in the first place.