In the third week of your class, one of your students is absent for the first time. You mark the student absent in your gradebook, but you don’t think it’s that big a deal. Then the student misses the next class period. And the next. That’s three in a row. You are now growing concerned. You ask the class whether they’ve seen the student. Nobody responds. You email the student. The student doesn’t write back. Next class: the student’s absent again. You send another email. Nothing.
Time passes. Three weeks are left in the semester. You figure the student dropped out.
Then, without warning, the student shows up. After class, you stop the student and ask s/he where s/he’s been.
And s/he says something like:
“I was sick for two months.”
“My (insert relative or significant other here) died.”
“My girlfriend/boyfriend broke up with me and I’ve been taking it pretty hard.”
What they’re giving you: an excuse for not being in class and turning in work.
What they want: to make up the work.
What often happens in this case is that the teacher feels a mixture of emotions. The teacher might feel sympathetic. The teacher might feel angry. They teacher might feel that s/he is being taken advantage of. The teacher might feel confused. Should the student be given the chance to make up the work? Would that be the right thing to do? Would it really be fair to the rest of the students? Is being “fair” really even possible, like, EVER?
The good news is that it’s not the teacher’s job to sort out the truth. It’s the teacher’s job to teach. Sorting out the truth is someone else’s job. NOT YOURS. So if you find yourself in the above position, explain that you, as a member of Virginia Tech’s teaching staff, are bound to the rules of your syllabus, and that if the student would like to see if their life situation merits a reprieve from those rules, then they can seek something called “Academic Relief.”
In that case, you direct them to one of the following forms:
1. If the student’s situation is physical in nature (illness, accident, etc.), then direct them to this form:
2. If the student’s situation is psychological in nature (depression, mental illness, mental distress, etc.), then direct them to this form:
Also: You can sometimes avoid these situations–or at least manage them better–by keeping your mentors and advocates (Coordinator of GTA Education, GTA Advisor, and the Associate Chair of the English Department) informed about student disappearances and disruptive behaviors.