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Tips for Handling Student Excuses

As new teachers very quickly learn, students will come up with all kinds of excuses for missing assignments and other work. Students will never say, “I missed the exam because I was out late last night—it was one dollar taps at the Silver Horse, you know how it goes.” As a result, teachers must have a policy for handling these situations, which invariably involves a decision on trust.

The problem is that grandparents do die—it happens—but they don’t die as often as we are told and their deaths don’t always coincide with major deadlines in the syllabus. So how do we know when a grandparent really dies, or a roommate actually does get deathly ill in the middle of the night, and when we are being handed a line?

The answer, of course, is that we can’t. While not often discussed, the teaching relationship involves trust. A teacher once told me that we can only trust our students, and if they lie to us, then it says something about them, not us.

Here are some of my thoughts on how to handle these situations. I invite readers to share their own approach to trusting students.

As always, I welcome your comments, criticisms, and cries of outrage.

Dr. John Orlando helped develop and lead online learning programs at the University of Vermont and Norwich University, and he has taught faculty how to teach online as well as how to use technology in their face-to-face teaching.

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