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An Open Letter to Teachers: WHY 11:59 PM?

Updated: Apr 12, 2023


Why 11:59PM? I literally cannot wrap my head around this. I even signed myself up for a Canvas account to see if it was saved as a pre-determined setting or something. But, nope, it’s not. You can absolutely choose any day and/or time you want! Then I checked Google Classroom to see what their settings are. Turns out theirs does show 11:59 PM as the default. You can delete it or change the time, but there isn't another spot to clarify when to turn it in. I mean, why can't homework just be due at the start of class?


This brings me to my next question… Why should or would something ever need to be due at 11:59 PM ON A FRIDAY OR SATURDAY NIGHT, especially IN COLLEGE?! I mean, are teachers just sitting up watching late-night television and counting the assignments as they're submitted? Doubtful.


Maybe this works for a student with an advanced executive function skill system. Or for a student whose parents are still acting as their frontal lobe. Maybe. But for your average student, whose frontal lobe is frantically trying to mature fast enough to manage the expectations of learning independently, it’s just mean.


The average 18-year-old’s frontal lobe still has at least 7 more years before it’s considered fully developed (Arain et al, 2013). The average ADHD brain’s frontal lobe can tack on an additional 5-10 years. My husband joked with me when he was in his mid-to-late 30's about this. He said, "Holy shit. I made it. I can't believe I'm still alive after all the stupid shit I did."


Consider the brain of an 18-year-old boy with ADHD. It's his first semester in college and his first kind of big assignment is due on Saturday at 11:59 PM. It’s Thursday now. Thirsty Thursday to be exact. He’s got plenty of time to get it done. I mean he hasn't actually looked at the assignment, but he knows he can get it done by Saturday! Tonight, he needs to bust out his math real quick and then get ready to go out.


Now, fast-forward to Friday and he steps out of his last class of the day. The fall air is just begging him to hang outside with friends. No need to do homework now. He’s got all day tomorrow! He’ll just spend the rest of the day chilling, maybe go to one of the frat parties with some friends. He won’t stay out too late though. He knows he’s got to do this essay.



Sooooo, now it’s Saturday, in the wee hours of the morning and he’s heading to bed after finally making his way across campus after the last party. He’s tired! Definitely going to sleep in. Good night! He wakes up in the early afternoon and needs to get some food STAT. Oh, and he needs to do at least a load of laundry if he’s going to wear his favorite shirt tonight. He knows that the girl he’s into likes it and she’s going to be hanging out with his friend group. He gets up and grabs some lunch. Hangs out with friends for a bit. Does a load of laundry. Watches some Tik Toks. You know, a typical lazy afternoon.



Then, he looks at his phone and it’s 6:00 PM. Crap! How did that happen? It’s OK though. He’s got this. He’s not going out until 10:00. PLENTY of time! He sits down and spends 10-minutes finding the assignment in his online portal. He clicks on it only to have his slow as molasses computer send him an error. He reboots and is back up and running. Sweet. He clicks again and finds the directions. No big deal. Just a short essay. Except, oh shit, he needs to watch this 25-minute video first. He’s hungry. He bargains with himself. He'll watch the video and then grab some dinner. He’ll have plenty of time after that to write the essay before he goes out. Video done! Yes. Dinner. Dinner done!


It’s just shy of 8:00 now and he decides a quick shower is in order. When he comes back his roommate is hanging out with his girlfriend in their room. He won't be able to concentrate with them in there so he checks the lounge, but there are kids in there watching some game. As he heads back to his room he tells himself, "I'll just put my earbuds in and get this thing done." His roommate hands him a beer when he walks back in and he figures, whatever, it's just a beer. It'll get the creative juices flowing! He sits down, opens a new document, puts his name on it, and gives it a title. Now he's staring at the screen hoping to put some words on it. His phone vibrates a notification. He's on a group text for making plans tonight. He responds to the text while thinking "This paper is so stupid. I should just forget about it until tomorrow. It’ll only be a day late. How much can they take off for a day!?"


FYI, I can't make this stuff up! While it's common for a great number of students to procrastinate, the difference between an ADHD-brain and a neurotypical brain is significant with regard to their awareness of the passing of time. In a 2009 presentation to parents, ADHD expert Russell A. Barkley stated that "ADHD is... time blindness". To a neurotypical person that may seem like an extreme description, but for those of you living with some form of ADHD in your life, you know that "time blindness" is a real thing!


So, what's the alternative? I suppose there are several, but I tend to like a simple solution. What if things could be due at the start of each class? You know, like back in the day. As soon as students sit down say to them, "OK everyone please go onto Canvas (or Google Classroom or Blackboard or whatever) and turn in your assignment right now." This would mean indicating the actual day and time of the class when something is to be due. As an example, instead of having a research paper due at 11:59PM on Sunday night, it would be due at the start of class on Monday. Genius!

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Apr 12, 2023
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