It seems like a long year already. I’ve been spending nights at the hospital with my grandmother and one of my sister’s best friends (and someone I’ve known my whole life) is about to succumb to an eight year battle with breast cancer. She was diagnosed the same month my first novel was published. When I learned of her condition, I gave her a signed copy of the very first book the publisher sent me. A couple of weeks later she called me and told me that reading the book was a great encouragement to her. To me, the compliment was better than making the bestseller list. Soon she will be gone. We will all miss her terribly.
Long story short, the year is starting out tough. In order to lighten the mood a little, I’m going to write something funny rather than serious this week. Thus, I have decided to share some of my favorite excuses students have given me over the years. These are just a few examples, but everything of what you are about to read is true. Conversations are recited to the best of my memory. Enjoy.
Part I – Dude, Where’s My Paper?
Yes, it is true. I’ve heard the “dog ate my homework” excuse. It happened in the Spring of 2006.
A student came in the office to tell me why his paper was late. He was a white guy with dreadlocks who consistently referred to me as “dude.” He wore a Marley T-shirt, shorts, and sandals. After telling me how he thought my class was “right on,” he announced:
“I know this sounds crazy, dude, but it’s true. Are you ready for this? My dog ate my homework. Now, I know what you’re gonna say. You’re gonna say that this dude is full of it but, dude, I’m not. It’s all true. I have this dog that eats everything, dude EVERYTHING.”
The student then provided me with several stories surrounding the viciousness of his Boston Terrier and all of the items its jaws had so mercilessly destroyed. Finally, I hear the tale of how the dog ripped apart his paper about John and Abigail Adams in gory detail. The student was very animated while telling the stories and nearly breathless by the time he finished. I waited until the end and said:
“You’re telling me that you could not possibly turn in the paper on time because your dog ate it.”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying, dude. Couldn’t believe it myself. He ate it and I was like…. Dude, WTF?”
“So, why didn’t you just print another copy?”
This question was followed by an awkward silence.
After several seconds of intense contemplation he said. “Um, I was out of paper, maybe.”
Of course he was.
Another student came into my office with crutches and a cast on his right leg. I asked him what happened and he told me that a car wreck had severely injured him and prevented him from getting his paper to me. Naturally, I told him not to worry about it. Get it to me when you can, I said. Later that same evening he walked passed me at the mall. No cast. No crutches.
One kid burst through the office door and announced, “Last night lightning struck a tree in my driveway and a limb fell on top of the car. So I couldn’t turn in my paper this morning.” There had been no storm the night before. Apparently, the Almighty didn’t want him to turn in his paper.
Part II – Don’t Fear the Weeper
Professors hear nearly every type of excuse imaginable. One of my pet peeves is when a student begins by saying, “I know this isn’t an excuse, but….” Some students don’t even bother to come into the office, opting to email me an excuse instead. My first year teaching at WVU, seventeen (yes, I counted) students sent me an email on exam days telling me that a grandparent had died. Seventeen! Evidently my exams are detrimental to the health of grandparents everywhere.
But the worst is when students cry. I recall a time when my niece, Shellie, was only an infant. She was on the couch crying and wailing for something. My father instantly ran to her, picked her up, held her tight, and consoled her with tons of sweet, baby talk. Shellie stopped crying immediately and smiled. It dawned on me then that one of the first things a female learns in this world is how she can manipulate a man with tears. It is no surprise then that every semester ladies come into my office and start crying away. Nowadays I even keep a box of tissues in my desk. When I first began teaching, however, I was completely unprepared.
The first time it happened was at the end of my first semester as a teacher. Girl comes into the office at around ten in the morning. She was attractive and completely dolled up. I looked at her grades and told her she needed to make an 80 on the final in order to pass the class. She could not get any higher than a “D.”
Then the tears began to flow. Not a couple of tears, mind you. I’m talking about Niagara Falls. The girl sobbed like her parents had just been murdered. Certainly, this was not the first time I had made a woman cry, but never before in a professional setting. I had no idea what to do. She told me that she was a straight A student and had never made a B before this semester. She then told me how her mother had been in the hospital and her boyfriend had cheated on her. After several unsuccessful attempts to consol her, I excused myself, walked into the hallway, and called my sister.
I am lucky enough to have a close relationship with my two older sisters. Whenever a woman says or does something that I do not understand, I call one, or both of my sisters, and they interpret the meaning for me (this has happened more times in my past than I care to admit). About 95% of the time, they are accurate.
I related the story over the phone and my sis became very adamant. “Don’t you dare listen to that girl!” She screamed, “She’s just trying to take advantage of you! Don’t you dare let her get away with it!”
“Are you sure? She seemed pretty broken up.”
“Don’t be stupid!”
As my sister continued to rant I peeked into my office. The girl was no longer crying. Instead she was gazing at herself with a handheld mirror and fluffing her hair. I decided to heed my sis’s advice.
I went in and checked her transcripts online. Sure enough, she was not exactly a straight A student. More like a 1.8 GPA. After I pointed this out to her, this sweet, attractive, innocent girl turned into a demon from hell. She cussed me out and stormed off. I sat silent in my chair with my mouth hanging open. My buddy and colleague Eugene Vansickle stuck his head around the corner and smiled (at the time I shared an office with several other Grad Instructors). “Don’t sweat it, Charles,” He laughed, “you’ll get used to it.”
Indeed I have. One girl came in crying over her grade and wanted some sympathy points. Once again, the girl was very attractive and almost unbearably self-absorbed. She struck me as the kind of girl who, when dancing with a guy at a club, spends the whole time watching herself in the mirror on the dance room wall while the guy is grinding on her and staring at her chest. I also imagine that her Facebook profile was filled with dozens of pics of her trying to pose like a fashion model (you know, with the serious look and the sideways peace sign). Sorry, sweetheart. Heidi Klum you are not. When I asked her why she had failed to come to class for the last month, she looked me dead in the eyes and said, “Drama.”
“Yes, Drama.” She wiped a tear from her cheek and rolled her eyes. “You don’t EVEN know.”
At this point I could no longer contain the sarcasm within me.
“Too bad you missed my lecture last Wednesday,” I said, “I talked about how Woodrow Wilson was incapacitated his entire final year as president after being diagnosed with a severe case of clinical drama.”
The girl didn’t even flinch.
“That sounds just like the last month of my life.” She said with a quivering voice and watery eyes.
I could only smile and shake my head.
“Yes, I’m sure your problems were every bit as complicated as the First World War.”
I have many more examples I can give; and I probably will at a later date. But right now, I’m pretty tired. I know that isn’t an excuse, but….