Monday, January 15, 2007

Excuses for Missing Class

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.

15 comments:

Jennie W said...

Oh, I love this! Makes the excuses I get just pale in comparsion. But maybe I simply haven't been teaching long enough...I'll get them eventually. I did have a student once tell me that he shouldn't be responsible for his plagarized paper because it was really his brother's. So he reused his BROTHER's plagrized paper and thought that somehow made it all better since his brother hadn't got caught. Ah, students....

drhistory said...

Your student should have been mad at his brother. My best plagiarism excuse was that he thought it would be okay to plagiarize because it took him a long time to find it online, so it would probably take me a long time to find it too. :P

Anonymous said...

I once had a student explain to me that it was ok to just copy things and turn them in because, hey, isn't that what historians do? Copy stuff that's been written in the past? That one actually gave me pause -- was she really making a profound statement about how historians use source material? Alternatively, was she really just dumb as a stick?

I have also noticed a trend over the last few semesters -- I have more and more students being unable to attend class or take exams because of legal problems: ie, court appearances or actually being in jail.

Tim said...

After nearly 4 years of teaching survey courses at both 4-year schools and community college campuses in Chicago, I became shockingly numb to excuses for missing class - even the big ones: I have cancer, I had an abortion, I'm pregnant, I was in jail, etc. I hate to further admit I really couldn't tell the lie apart from the truth, except under moderately telling circumstances, such as a corresponding emotional attachment to the excuse given.

Now, on plagiarism, I accepted almost no excuse. But that's because I explained the problem extensively at the beginning of the term, and told them to run passages by me if they had questions. - TL

Jennie W said...

I think sometimes that students must think I'm really stupid. I can make a pretty good guess if they didn't write it - it isn't that hard to tell! And with the power of Google, I can catch them because they all plagarize off the Internet anymore. If they actually plagarized out of books, it would be much harder to catch them, but that's too much work for them - they couldn't just hit copy and paste! So I continue to catch them...I guess that's a good thing? In a prefect world they'd all just write their own papers!

And as to your student's ploy that copying is what historians do...at least we cite what we're repeating!

drhistory said...

I hate catching students cheating because it then makes me suspicious about all the papers I'm grading. I try as much as possible to give assignments that it would be hard to plagiarize, but even then some students look for ways to get their assignments done without having to actually read.

Anonymous said...

I've recently started using a plagiarism checking service (Turnitin) and having my students submit their papers electronically. It seems to work very well. It not only takes the work out of identifying plagiarized papers, but it also tends to discourage the students from doing it in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Missing a class for graduate school visits or a valuable career related experience are hardly poor excuses. There are many things to be learned outside of the classroom that cannot be learned from a book. I have learned more outside of the classroom in terms of valuable career application than I ever learned from the ideal situations provided in lecture, theory, or textbooks. I believe allowing students time to build their career tools or advance their studies is arguably a duty as an educator.

drhistory said...

They are in my class 3 hours a week. Seems like they could get their 'career' experience during part of the other 165 hours in the week.

Anonymous said...

WTF i can't even see any excuses!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

You are from the South. Enough has been said. QQ

Anonymous said...

They probably didn't come to class during the OJ trial because it was a women's history course... duh. who cares about women in history?

Brahman said...

There is no doubt the comment above was posted by a lonely soul who will forever work at a dead-end job because he/she received removal of the freedom to an education for plagiarism. Karma will always come around. Reacting in such a childish way due to jealousy because you don't have an occupation to be proud of?
Don't let your proudest moment be your mugshot in the "Who's in Jail" weekly flyer. Do something with your life instead of wasting space both realistically as well as virtually.

Anonymous said...

now i feel really bad...
one my students always pull is yelling ''im gonna be sick'' then running out with out me even saying somthing. later id find them appsolutoly fine hanging with mates.

but one time this girl said ''im gonna be sick'' this had allready been pulled on me today so i had had enough and befor she got to the door i said ''NO NOBODY IS LEAVING THIS CLASSROOM!!!' then she stopped and ran over to the bin and was sick all over the bin and the floor around it now i feel really bad about it

Anonymous said...

Would it suffice to say that students have missed your class due to your clearly arrogant personality. At no point would I attend a course with a professor that thought the world of him/herself like you seem to. Universities make the mistake of forcing students to take unneeded courses, and while you may think that your work is important, others do not. As I'm sure you never skipped a class during your college education. Think a little deeper into your own past.