Inspect what you expect

My husband Tom recently purchased the 43 acre property adjacent our 8 acre home site. Long story… but this property came to be available when the company that owned it when “belly up.” When Tom agreed to purchase the property from the bank holding the foreclosure, he wanted the property properly surveyed with the boundary lines clearly marked.  Not too much to ask, right?

The surveyors have visited the property at least 3 times that we know of. Tom received a call from his contact from the company stating that the job was finished. No boundary markers have been placed… at all. He called the company and was told there must have been a misunderstanding.  They will return on Monday.

Unfortunately this business practice seems to be all too common these days. The company doesn’t complete the job, or completes it in a shoddy manner, but still expects to be paid… and honestly doesn’t think anyone will check up on their work. Tom was frustrated with the amount of inspection that he has had to do just to get the company to do its job.

It’s not at all surprising to me. I’ve taught adolescents for twenty years. When I assign work to my students, I must check to see that the work has been completed. I need to collect assignments as often as my life can handle because if I don’t… they won’t do the work! I have grown so accustomed to the student who waits until right before the end of the marking period to do the work… the logic there is… why do the assignment unless it is confirmed that it will be a part of my grade? So, he or she decides to try to slap together the missing assignments hoping for some points to replace the many zeroes he or she has earned.

It’s always interesting when the students are shocked that I actually read what they wrote or actually scored their work for accuracy. They hope that I will see that there is some writing on the page, assume that the work is amazing, and place a nice check mark at the top.

One year I had a very clever student who, when I returned an assignment on which was a score he didn’t like, he hid the paper. When I had finished returning papers to the class, he exclaimed, “Where’s mine?”

“I handed it to you, ” I replied.

“No, you didn’t.”

“I’m certain that I did. I remember grading it and handing it to you.”

“No, you didn’t,” he insisted. The attitude he was displaying was… Prove it. Since I could not prove that I in fact read, scored, and returned his work, I needed to remove that score from his grade. Next time I was ready for him. Before handing back the papers, I made a copy of his. True to form, he tried it again. I feigned concern over the loss of yet another paper, and then I pulled out the copy. I expected that he would do that again, and I needed to be one step ahead of him.

As teachers, we need to INspect what we EXpect of our students then give honest feedback – formally or informally – as often as possible.  I overheard two of my students having a conversation about an assignment…

“Did you write your paragraph?” she asked.

“Not yet,” he answered.

“Well, you’d better. You know she’s gonna check!”

If we don’t INspect what we EXpect, then we are displaying our personal apathy for the assignment or the activity or the behavior that we have asked our students to display. Be consistent. Be fair. And remember to do a snazzy happy dance when all 30 of your freshmen turn in their formal essays on time!