Three days into the semester I've already gotten two excuses from students about why they had to miss class. One of them had some sort of retreat connected to their job and the other was going to visit a graduate school. I just *love* hearing about what students consider to be more important than coming to my class. I especially liked the kid who told me he was going to miss class because the 5 year-olds at the Child Development Center were getting married and he was going to video tape it.
Thank goodness I don't have night classes, I would hate to know how many shows (House, Desperate Housewives, etc.) were more important than learning about the Industrial Revolution. If you think that no student who thought a TV show was more important than class would be silly enough to actually tell that to the teacher than you probably haven't had your idealism crushed out of you by hundreds of general education students. I remember years ago T.A.ing for a U.S. Women's History class at the the same time the O.J. Verdict was announced, I probably received a half dozen emails from students informing me that they wouldn't be making it to class in order to find out he was convicted or not.
I hate listening to student excuses so much, that I specifically give my students a number of *free* absences. They can skip class for whatever reason they want and it won't affect their grades. I do this primarily to save my own sanity and so I don't have to know just how far down on their list of priorities history class ranks.
Despite this fairly permissive attitude, I still get a ton of stories about why students had to miss class - especially on a test days. Car wrecks, flat tires, illness are all common place excuses. An old favorite is the death of a grandparent. It is likely, hard to disprove (bring me a copy of death certificate -seems a bit cold), and only a heartless professor would refuse a make-up exam to a student who just lost his grandpa. One year, I swore that someone must have put a curse on me because almost a 1/3 of my students grandparents passed away in a single semester.
Although Joseph Palladino's and Mitchell Handelsman's contention that "There is no relationship between the validity of an excuse and its apparent creativity/outrageousness" is probably true, I do hold a soft spot in my heart for those student's who have the wildest/weirdest excuses for missing class. Like the the kid who couldn't make it because he had to go to court because he was going 50-miles-per-hour over the speed limit on I-75 (I was surprised that anyone even noticed). Or the student whose dad was being evicted from his apartment and had to help him move all the stuff out before it ended up on the sidewalk. Of course, my all time personal favorite is the girl who couldn't make it to the exam because she had gotten her first pap-smear that day and was traumatized by the experience (I am certain this crossed some sort of line).
If I didn't teach at a small college, where we are supposed to notice if the students aren't in class, I would probably not have an attendance policy at all - just to avoid the excuses.
Note: A colleague just sent me a link to an article at The Chronicle on professors' favorite student excuses.