Skipping class

Good quote about attendance via Study Hacks:

“The following are valid excuses for skipping class: I have a fever of 105 degrees; I need to fly to L.A. to accept an Academy Award; today in class we are reviewing a book I wrote; my leg is caught in a bear trap. The moral of this exercise: Always go to class!“
– from How to Win at College

Here are some memorable excuses I’ve had before:

  • A student missed class because, he said later, he had to go to the doctor. Fine, I said, just bring me the doctor’s note and I’ll excuse the absence. Instead of a doctor’s note, he brought me a bottle of pills that he said the doctor gave him. The bottle didn’t have a label on it.
  • A student approached me the day before a final exam to request that he be excused and take the final exam later in the week. The reason? He claimed his dad was a famous NASCAR driver and had called him up that morning telling him to come work with the pit crew at a big race. I told him to tell his dad that as soon as the final is over, he could join up with the team. (This was while I was at Vanderbilt,  so it’s actually possible that his dad really was a famous NASCAR driver.)
  • A student missed three days of class. Later, he explained: He was in jail for a week. Turned out it was true. So I’d add incarceration to the list in the quote.

What good skipped-class excuses have you heard (or can you make up)?


Filed under Education, Higher ed, Life in academia, Student culture

16 responses to “Skipping class

  1. I just had a student claim that he missed the last FIVE WEEKS of a semester because he had an eczema breakout on his face. He was given an extension if he finished the final project and brought 2 doctors excuses. The excuses were dated months after the semester was over and I have yet to receive a final. I’m never going to accept ‘too ugly to come to class’ as an excuse again.

  2. That makes a pretty good argument for distance learning!

  3. Pat

    I had a high school student tell me that they were on a late bus so he missed my class. When asked for the bus pass (which they give to everyone on the late bus), he said he left it in his mother’s car when she dropped him off.
    I had a university student who was 8 months pregnant tell me that one day she had morning sickness, one day she fell in the shower, and one day her water broke. She had the baby weeks after my class ended.

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  5. jif

    I don’t really understand. What is the motivation for “excusing”, or not, absences from university classes. If students don’t come to my class they will almost certainly do less well in the class. They are babied in high-school, they will not be babied on the job.

    Isn’t it better, in the long run, to treat university students mostly like adults? We are already doing a poor job of preparing them for “real life” doesn’t this type of thing just make it worse?

  6. I never understood mandatory attendance at college level. Am I being graded on my work or on my ability to be a warm body in a room?

    In college, I occasionally skipped classes. Once I was asked by the professor, in passing, what had happened. It had been a rough week; I had decided hers was the class I could most afford to skip. She seemed a little non-plussed when I told her so.

  7. I reward attendance and punish absence, so it does matter whether students come.

    Reasonable excuses included a final at another college, a best friend’s funeral, military duty, a child in the hospital, and appearing before the judge for probation hearing.

    Fake excuses included funeral (for a non-dead person), being sick (when not), and having been in a car accident which caused a miscarriage. The student who gave me the latter excuse had missed three weeks of class. I checked on her other classes. She had missed different three week periods in each class.

  8. @jif: To clarify — For my classes, “excused” absences refer to situations where students miss a graded assessment that was administered in class (exam, quiz, etc.) and the student has some valid excuse, where “valid” is defined in the syllabus. For everyday class meetings, on the other hand, I have a lightweight attendance policy for freshman-level courses and no policy for sophomore-level and above.

    I find freshmen need guidance when adjusting to the freedom of college, and they’re a lot more likely to make good choices about attendance if they have some sort of punitive system for skipping too much. I give them four “sick days” per semester which they can use for whatever they want (except to miss a quiz, test, etc.) but then a steep penalty for the fifth and higher absence. That’s modeled after most employers’ sick day/vacation policy in the “real world”.

  9. Dean

    I teach math and statistics at a business-oriented school. Last year, in a course covering discrete topics (graph theory/networks, game theory, etc) I had a guy in his mid-30s, manager of some sort at a local business, who continually tried to argue with me (and other faculty, as it turned out) that because he had to travel for his job, he shouldn’t have to do the homework/tests/projects for material covered while he was gone.
    When asked whether this type of argument would fly on his job, his standard answer was “I don’t know, I wouldn’t think of trying: work is important.”
    He did learn that it didn’t fly with faculty, but he continued to try.

  10. At my school, most of the lecture classes don’t have any kind of attendance policy, or the policy goes unenforced. Pretty much everyone skips all their classes on their birthday.

  11. rwp

    I’ve had a few memorable legitimate excuses. I had a student *ask me* if it would be okay if he missed class so he could attend his naturalization ceremony! I said absolutely, and congratulations!

    I’ve had a number of students who had to drop to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan. I thanked them for their service.

    I’ve also had a couple of oopses. I had one student keel over and die of a heart attack in the hall as I was getting ready to let students in for the final — he’d been up all week, eating speed.

    I once had the students on a cohort complain that one of the cohort had disappeared, and I hadn’t seen him in class, so I sent him an email message that while not rude, wasn’t the most patient message I’ve sent. About a week later, I got an email message from an account I’d never seen, AOL, I believe. It was the student’s father. He had been killed in a car accident. I felt really bad about that message I’d sent.

  12. rwp

    Oh, and Mitch Daniels’s daughter asked if she could miss class at the beginning of the semester to attend the inauguration. I was really busy getting ready for the semester and I hadn’t read it carefully, so I didn’t realize it was his daughter, but I told her sure, since she was missing only the first day, and asked her to drop by the office to pick up her materials. It was about a month after the semester started that the chairman was down in my office and we were chatting, and he asked me how the Governor’s daughter was doing. That’s how I found out she was my student.

  13. Usually, if a prof asks why I didn’t show up to a class, I say “I had a thing.” Upon being pressed, I follow that with a hand wave and a “don’t worry about it.” That’s when the usually-miffed prof gives up.

    Check this out:

    When you’re the person the Chasing Tenure author is writing about, you know it. You know you’re getting an A anyway, and you know your time’s better spent reading a good book on an interesting subject. So why bother showing up?

    If you can get past my incendiary tone, I’d really be interested in reading an answer.

  14. @student: I’ve actually written one of those letters before, although not quite so, um, bluntly. A company was considering hiring one of my students and asked for a reference, and I told the company that the student was a competent worker — so long as she feels like working, and so long as the work is, in HER opinion, interesting enough to merit her attention. But if the company had some pressing business and wanted her to take care of it, it was a crap shoot — maybe she’ll take a shine to the assignment and get it done, or maybe she’ll just figure she was getting a raise anyway and perhaps her time was better spent doing something else. You pay your money and you take your chances.

    And I tell that story to every student who gives me the “I had a thing” treatment. College students are adults, and so I let them make their choices and take the consequences. If they want to establish a reputation for themselves as underachievers, and possibly screw themselves over grade-wise, then I will make the consequences and policies clear to them, and I will tell them why it’s better to be responsible, but otherwise leave them alone. I have no problem with letting students develop good judgment through the exercise of bad judgment.

  15. rwp

    I never ask students why they weren’t in class, unless they come to office hours and have Fs on projects or the exam and I knew they weren’t in class. It’s not feasible to take attendance in a lecture hall with 250 students. However, I do give pop quizzes, always at the end of class, and on those days, TAs hand the scantrons out at the door for the first five minutes. When the five minutes are up, the TAs take the scantrons back to my office and return. Come late, or don’t come, and you get a zero on the quiz.

  16. elementaryteacher

    I had a student come in with the best excuse for not having his homework done, and it WAS true. His house caught on fire the night before (started by a chimney fire). Luckily he and his family escaped unhurt. He was worried I wouldn’t believe him (one of the most responsible students in the class).

    Dedicated Elementary Teacher Overseas (in the Middle East)