Excuses, excuses – dogs that eat homework taken to the next level

Dog with homework and supplies in stomach.

Sebastian Bonholt // Creative Commons

Dog with homework and supplies in stomach.

Life is unpredictable in many ways. While we can try to control certain aspects of our lives, we can’t control everything that happens to us. If we could, it would make many people’s lives much easier. 

Many of the situations that we might face prevent us from being able to meet deadlines and follow through with our commitments. As Guilford students, we might end up missing a few assignments or exams because of incidents out of our control. You never know when you might catch a cold or when something more grave will happen. 

However, you can’t just miss an assignment and not offer the one depending on you—for example, your professor—an explanation. No matter how outlandish the excuse you use might sound, it’s always better to come out with it. For some professors, the way they have approached excuses has changed due to the coronavirus and virtual learning. For others, not so much.

“The best excuse I have ever received was a student who told me her pet snake had mites,” said Guilford English Professor Caroline McAlister. “There was really no response I could make. It was so outlandish that I am quite sure it was true.”

Guilford English Professor Heather Hayton shared some excuses she’s been given along with how virtual school has changed how she approaches them. 

“I once, long ago, had a student claim to miss class and an assignment due to his ‘grandmother’s funeral’… but I reminded him he had sent that very same email to me the previous semester. We both agreed that he take a zero for that assignment and get counted absent for the class.”

“What I love about Guilford students is that most of the time, they are authentic and honest. Maybe too honest,” said Hayton. “I once walked into my Archdale Hall office to find a student asleep on my couch. When I asked them what they were doing, they said their roommate had been having a lot of loud sex in their room for the past week and they just needed someplace quiet to sleep for a bit.”

Hayton noted another memorable instance of blatant honesty from 2004, her first year at Guilford. 

“I had a senior, excellent student, miss two classes after Serendipity… when I asked his classmates where he was, they told me he had gone into the woods to trip acid and read our Milton text on the last day of Serendipity, and was still up in a tree,” Hayton said. “I didn’t believe them, but sure enough, he was still out in the woods with his Milton book.” 

“Right now, I am doing everything I can to help keep us motivated,” Hayton continued. “This time of the semester is hard—even without a pandemic and so much uncertainty in the world. So I have pushed back deadlines for everyone in one whole class… letting people turn things in on their own timeline, while still holding class and working with folks… for me, the most important thing right now is to stay motivated, and to find joy in learning.”

English professor Rod Spellman has a different take on excuses and virtual learning.

“It hasn’t changed the way I approach excuses,” Spellman said. “I tend to hold to my syllabus policies, but I have tried to create more space for students to get things done—like 24 hour due dates or homework amnesty days where people can submit late work. Students do seem to be struggling more with technology and family issues than when we were face-to-face, which makes sense.”

Geology professor David Dobson shared the craziest excuse he has heard.

“The worst excuse I ever got was a student who came into my office, asked to shut the door, and then explained that his lab was going to be late because he had been involved in a drug deal gone bad that left him stranded and broke across town, so he didn’t get back to campus until 6 a.m.,” Dobson said. “‘I didn’t get my homework done because I was committing a felony’ was essentially his hot take. He turned the lab in later and got docked a few points, which is what would have happened had he not offered any excuse.”

In terms of his reaction to such excuses, Dobson said that he has “only generally acted on blatantly fake excuses when it’s a case of academic dishonesty, like when (a student) claimed they had an ‘unintentional photographic memory,’ and just happened to write an essay in class that was the Wikipedia article on a topic not really covered in class, word-for-word, uncited. Neither I nor the Dean’s office was convinced.”

Finally, Philosophy Professor Vance Ricks offered his personal feelings about the stigma around virtual learning and student excuses.

“The whole world keeps hammering teachers that we have to be infinitely flexible and forgiving of our students now, because of the psychological challenges of the past year,” said Ricks. “I’ve noticed this past year that if someone doesn’t show up, or doesn’t hand in something on time, they often don’t even bother explaining—which means that they also aren’t offering a reason that might be untrue. My least favorite reason, of course, is, ‘I had to do something in my other class.’” 

Guilford students offered some insight into their excuses as well.

“It would have to be that I was at the hospital for a whole night and totally forgot that there was an exam that day,” said first-year Betzy Cilio when asked about truthful but fake-sounding excuses she has had to give.

“My friend went into emergency surgery on a Sunday so naturally I went with him to the hospital and waited for him to get out,” said sophomore Tinyah Ervin. “(I) told my professors I couldn’t do any work because I stayed overnight at the hospital.” 

“A lot of the time when I’m at home, my internet will go out, or it’ll just be really spotty… but I always feel like I sound like I’m lying when I email professors later to tell them that’s why I missed class or an assignment,” said first-year and international relations major Drew Erickson. 

There are those who believe that virtual learning is easy and that students should have no excuse for missing deadlines, but virtual learning and the pandemic didn’t change the fact that things tend to spiral out of control. Professors now have to take into account more possibilities and factors as to why a student missed class or didn’t turn in an assignment. Students shouldn’t be afraid of giving truthful excuses, no matter how untrue they might sound. Anything can happen, especially during the pandemic.