How to Handle Student Excuses

“Grandpa’s heart exploded, but he’s fine now,” one student reported the morning after missing a scheduled exam. “I caught dyslexia from another student last semester,” responded another when his teacher asked him about all the spelling mistakes in his paper. And then there was the pet rabbit that swallowed a needle on the day of the big group presentation. Excuses like these are so preposterous that they can’t help but make us laugh, but dealing with them is no laughing matter.

As a book for new psychology teachers points out, “The way you handle excuses conveys a message to your students about your teaching philosophy, and most particularly about whether you view students as partners or adversaries, the degree to which you trust them, and how you care about them.” (p. 137)

The trick is separating the legitimate, bona fide excuses from the contrived, just plain made-up ones, and there are lots of gradations in between. Sometimes a teacher needs the wisdom of Solomon.

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