Dearest “I am so late,”
Disclaimer: we write these answers from our positions, not that of all professors (who are a diverse group with different ways of handing late assignments, and many other things…).
As people who have encountered tricky life situations from time to me, Professors A to Z are somewhat sympathetic to your question. We hope that your other professors will be too…
We do think, though, that when announcing a late turn-in and/or asking for an extension, the reception you will get is likely to depend on: 1) your performance in class to date, 2) how early you let them know/ask them, and 3) what the reason is for your paper being late.
If you are generally a punctual, engaged student, you have a good basis from which to share your story. If you have to date been habitually late or otherwise standing out in negative ways, the reception might be different….
So, our best advice is to let your prof know early (even if only the night before rather than the morning of), and to respectfully share your story (major components only; we don’t usually want finer details!), politely requesting if an accommodation can be made. This is your right, and you should not feel afraid to do this.
But… there are also some things you should know from a professor’s point of view:
1) Professors have schedules to balance, and lives outside of the classroom. So… if your assignment or your request for an extension comes at a bad time (we might be struggling to meet our own deadlines), you might not get the response that you had hoped for… And our answer might not be about you, and your situation, but about the difficulties of managing our sets of responsibilities, especially if assignments arrive outside of the times/spaces we have reserved for them.
2) We are not (all?) cranky dragons! We know that life happens, and we are aware that our assignments must sometimes get bumped down students’ lists of priorities. So, let us know if you are struggling, and focus on reasonable accommodations (e.g. a day or two longer for short assignments), as well as helping yourself to get back on top of things. If you have a cold, do make time to rest and recover. If your part time job is eating into important work time for school, make adjustments…. And, if your personal life is feeling out of control; if you are struggling with health issues, mental health issues, learning disabilities, family troubles, choose to talk to a professional at the university–there are things that can be done to help you. The people you consult can write you a note for us, if appropriate. Further, your professor, wellness counsellor, disability coordinator, and other advisors want you to do well at school, and we know how hard university can be, especially when you have other challenges to contend with. We have walked those halls, back in the day. If you are struggling, your professor can direct you to resources, and you should be able to negotiate new due dates with support. Your wellness counselors will provide you needed help, food vouchers if you are hungry, and a trained empathetic ear. If you don’t know how to ask your professor for an extension, wellness staff will help you with that too. You just have to ask—please do not suffer in silence.
And if it was just a minor bump along the way, and not something more serious, you can try talking about that too. If you just screwed up, missed the date in the syllabus, were focused on something else (Netflix marathon binge? We know about those too!), an honest apology might just work…
Pro tip: use our lonely dedicated office hours (that is what they are for!), rather than coming up to us right before or after class as we struggle to put up or take down class materials, and if you are emailing us, keep the email polite (Dear Dr. Dragon, not Hey girl!) and to the point (no wandering multi-screen emails please!). Doing all of these finer things might just make us more sympathetic too.