Being the “Tough Teacher”

My college FCS professor and I butt-heads quite often when I was completing my Bachelor’s Degree. She was stubborn, hard-headed, and tough. We had the first two things in common already, but I could not quite ever bring myself to be that last one: tough…

Now I’m no pushover in my classroom. I like to think of myself as a realist. My students have a lot going on in their lives. Heck, half of them have bigger issues going on in their lives than I do! I tend to be the understanding teacher most of the time and let them turn in assignments a day or two late with minor penalty, listen to music during work times, and spend the first five minutes of class getting their “Chatty Cathy’s” out of their system.

Yesterday, however, I earned my stripes. I finally became the “tough teacher”. And I’m pretty sure I have a few new student enemies to show for it. You know what, though? I’m proud of myself. Let me tell you about the situation that caused me to come to this point…

I assigned a Culinary Portfolio project at the beginning of the year. I told the kiddos that it would be due at the end of the year and they would have all year (including some in-class work days) to get it done. It’d be a low-stress assignment if they kept up with it, but could become their worst nightmare if they procrastinated. High schoolers, procrastinate?! NEVER! 🙂

I’d been warning and reminding my students about the due date for the past month and a half. I even gave them three work days to finish it up while I was out for my sister’s wedding. And I told them in the clearest, most stern voice that I could muster before I left (and repeated EVERY day up until the due date) that I “WILL NOT ACCEPT YOUR PORTFOLIO IF IT GETS TO ME AFTER 1:40 PM ON FRIDAY, MAY 17TH! Unless you’re in the hospital where I can visit and bring you flowers because I care about you! (big cheesy smile)”

Now while most of my little lovelies turned in their portfolios on time (some even early!!), I’ve had a handful of kids approach me to give me their excuses on why they couldn’t get it to me on Friday because of an absence. There was a “family emergency,” a sprained ankle, and a suspension from school. And I had to sit there, with my game face on, and tell each student “Sorry, deadlines are deadlines.”

Inside, I was crying. What if they actually had a family emergency? (they didn’t I later found out). I felt so heartless, but then, bubbling out of my mouth before I knew what I was saying, I heard myself calmly say to the sprained ankle student:

“When did I say the due date was? (May 17 at 1:40) And what did I say would happen if it wasn’t here by the due date? (I’d get a zero)…. Honey, this is real life. In real life, sometimes you have to make the tough call and stick to deadlines. Even if it means relying on someone else to bring in your materials so you can still make the deadline. In real life, your boss won’t care that you had a sprained ankle. ‘It’s not broken? Great! Get back to work’, he’ll say, ‘and where’s that memo I asked you to write for our meeting today?’ Not meeting deadlines doesn’t just affect you in real life. It affects everyone you work with. So, darling, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s going to be a zero this time. Next time, get it done early, so if you have another sprained ankle, you’ll already have it done and turned in.”

Sprained Ankle student walked away (perfectly, mind you…with no signs of a sprained ankle…curious!) with his head down low, then quickly asked to go to the nurse to get out of class.

Sorry, kiddo. I’m the tough teacher now.


Leave me your best inspiring “tough teacher” story to keep me motivated to stick to my guns! It’s hard facing the sad faces of kids that you love and put so much effort into!


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