How do I handle hard-to-believe but difficult-to-disprove excuses?

“Take it and act as if it’s real. Who cares? What comes around goes around… But you can also say, ‘so you’ve missed your engineering class, too?’ and when she says, ‘no… just yours..’ you can say, ‘so when you were at the beach for the death of your granny again, you were able to telepathically attend your engineering class?’  And you can also talk to Cheryl Ruggiero, to see if she sees anything strange going on with the student in her former classes.”

“With prevention.  Have a firm but flexible and non-negotiable attendance policy, for example by allowing 3 or 4 absences with no questions asked, and then a threat that their participation or overall grade will suffer after that (don’t specify how).  Whether students have a dead grandparent or have slept in is none of your business.  You can always break your own rules if you really do believe the student, but you can have recourse to these rules if you don’t.”

“Dean of students.  Put the burden of make-up work on the student.  Deduct points for late work.”

“I don’t do excuses.  When students email me before class to say that they’re sick, I believe them, and remind them that they should make themselves aware of what’s happened in their absence.  I tell them at the beginning of the semester that papers are due when they’re due, and that I will almost always give an extension, if it is requested in advance.  When they tell me that their printers have just broken, or that their computers have just crashed, I take them at their word, and ask them what they propose to do about the problem.  Note:  few students ask for extensions; but they feel relieved, knowing that I will likely okay them.

“Second note:  I emphasize at the beginning of the semester their responsibility to the class, and I emphasize to them the importance of keeping contact with all their instructors, not just with me.”

“You can allow for one ‘freebie’ per semester, wherein the student does not even need to explain why a homework assignment was not turned in, or it could cover an absence—but not an essay due date—that is larger.  Spell it out at the beginning of the year, and when this happens, and the b-s begins, just interrupt the lame explanation and say—’Do you want to use your Freebie for this?’  And then after that, the next time a lame excuse begins, you can say, ‘Well, your Freebie has already been used, so this one will have to be a zero.’  They likely will not get to a third one.”

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