Excuses, Excuses... I've been teaching for many years, and during
that time, I've heard my share of excuses from students. Sometimes they skip
class, or fail exams, or get arrested during their oral presentations, but they
always seem to have excuses for why their grades shouldn't suffer as a result
of missed work. So I got to thinking how much nicer it would be if my
students knew how to craft better excuses for their teachers. I hope this
I really enjoy teaching—most of the time. But occasionally,
like at the end of the semester when final exams are coming and term papers are
due, I get frustrated because some of my students start lobbing pretty pathetic
excuses my way. I mean, am I really supposed to believe that the same student's
homework was destroyed in a wild fire one week, a hurricane the next week, and
then a shark feeding frenzy the week after that? It's especially
unbelievable since all of this supposedly happened during the winter. In
With millions of young people trying to succeed in school,
it seemed that my expertise in the field of excuses could be used to help you,
today’s student, to succeed in your own educational pursuits. Hopefully,
my years of suffering through unimaginative nonsense like "My dog ate my
homework," or "My grandmother died again," could be used
to educate the next generation in what makes a really fine excuse.
Excuse Rule #1: Keep
There’s nothing worse than an overly complicated excuse.
Many high school teachers and college professors get annoyed quickly, and
nothing brings on annoyance like some long, drawn-out tale. The fact is that
your instructors really don’t want to know the whole history of your life any
more than you want to know the gritty details of theirs. Instead, keep your
excuse simple and to the point. Your instructors will appreciate not having
their time wasted.
Poor excuse: "I’m sorry I was late for class, but I was
on the way here, and this squirrel ran into the road in front of my bike. I
swerved to avoid it, but then I ran into this dog, who was chasing the
squirrel. If that wasn’t bad enough, the dog was dragging this little girl by
the leash (the leash was on the dog, not the girl), and I almost hit her with
my bike, too. So, my bike was covered with dog drool and the little girl was
crying, and I had to walk them home, but then I started worrying about what
happened to the squirrel, so I…."
OK, you get the idea. This annoying excuse goes on way
too long. This student will likely lose extra attendance points just for
Better excuse: "I’m sorry I was late, but I almost ran
over a rabid squirrel."
Perfect. This says it all in just a few words. Plus it gives
the instructor a heads-up that the student might develop a serious health
problem (rabies) at some point in the future. Having rabies is an excellent
excuse for missing a final exam.
Excuse Rule #2: Make
Some students believe they’re Zena Warrior Princess or a Dungeons
and Dragons tenth-level Ranger, but professional educators are usually more
grounded in reality. Inventing excuses that make you sound much cooler than you
actually are is a one-way ticket to failure. Make sure that your excuses cast
you in a believable light, even if that light isn’t terribly flattering.
Poor written excuse: "Deer Perfeser, Im sorry I missed
clas, butt I wuz compeetng in a big speling be."
Do I have to spell out what makes this excuse
Better written excuse: "Deer Perfesr, I cood not be in
yer clas cuz I had a job careying dikchunairees four the kids in the big spelng
Excellent. This is believable, and it makes the student
sound like she’s trying to be a useful member of society, despite obvious
Excuse Rule #3: It’s
someone else’s fault.
This rule should not be overlooked by anyone serious about
making excuses. Under no circumstances do you want to be blamed for your own
failure. After all, if you contributed to your own downfall, then your teachers
could legitimately impose some penalty on you for it. On the other hand, if you
are a hapless victim of circumstances completely out of your control, then no
compassionate person could expect you to suffer further.
Poor excuse: "I’m sorry I didn’t get my term paper
turned in on time. I was going to work on it over the weekend, but NASA called
me up and needed someone experienced to help talk one of their satellite
astronauts back down to Earth. Seems he got a little freaked out up there, after
circling Uranus, and kind of froze up."
Yes, this does blame the situation on someone else (NASA and
a rookie astronaut), but it violates too many of the other rules. First off,
this student has violated Rule #2 and created an unbelievable excuse. This guy
is not a NASA-trained astronaut. Maybe the girls at the party Saturday
night believed it, but your teacher will not. Actually, even the girls didn't
believe it; they were just being polite. Any instructor would be insulted by
this one, but a physics professor, in particular, may throw the student bodily
out of the classroom. Plus, it’s a little too long (see Rule #1). It’s a common
mistake to make things too complicated when trying to lay blame on others.
Better excuse: "Sorry I don’t have my term paper
completed yet. The Health Department has sealed off my bedroom and I don’t have
access to my books or computer."
This will definitely work. It’s someone else’s fault
(insensitive bureaucrats), while being totally believable and simple. This
student will be given loads of extra time to finish the assignment because the
instructor will want the paper to be fully decontaminated before being handed
Excuse Rule #4: Use
It sounds basic, but too many students ignore this very
effective technique. If you can get your instructor’s attention off of you and
your flagrant disregard for school policy, then you’d be a fool not to, right?
So you just get the instructor’s mind off of you by offering something far more
interesting to think about – namely, the instructor herself!
Poor excuse: "Sorry I missed the exam, but I was busy
doing homework for one of my other classes. The other class is one I’m actually
interested in, so I think it’s way more important than your class. I’m just
taking your course because I have to in order to graduate. And I don’t get much
out of coming to your class, anyway, because I usually fall asleep during your
It’s a shame this student needs to pass this class to
graduate, because that will never happen. Her best chance for graduating now is
transferring to another school.
Better excuse: "I can’t believe that I missed your
exam! I was up half the night studying for the test because I love this class
so much. I’m sure you understand. Anyway, because I went to bed so late, I
overslept. After learning so much from you, I was planning on majoring in this
subject, but if I have an ‘F’ on an exam in here, I don’t know if I’ll be able
Bingo! They say imitation is the highest form of
flattery, so here’s a student who’s imitating and flattering her instructor at
the same time. It was a nice touch when the student said, "I’m sure you
understand." Throwing this in acknowledges the instructor’s superior
Excuse Rule #5:
Excessive gore could work for or against you.
In my years of teaching, I’ve gotten some pretty gruesome
excuses from students. I’ve seen emergency room paperwork smeared with blood
(it could have actually been red paint; I didn’t have it analyzed), I’ve had
students pulling up (or down) clothing to show off stitches and scars, and
there have been graphic descriptions of burrowing, parasitic insects.
Generally, I turn green at these excuses and agree to any make-up assignment
the student suggests.
However, there are high school biology teachers, plus university
nursing and medical school professors, who live for these excuses. They want to
examine puncture wounds - sometimes with surgical tools - and they long to
hear exactly what color the boil turned after it expanded to cantaloupe size.
If you’re not prepared to provide these details, don’t go down the path of
Poor excuse: "I’ll need to leave class a little early
today. I have an appointment with a specialist who’s going to look at this
thing that’s been growing on my back. My regular doctor didn’t know what to
make of it, so he tried to lance it himself in the office. Well, he never
thought there’d be that much pus! And the smell! They had to call in a federal
Hazardous Materials team to clear the building. Anyway…"
I would have stopped listening when I heard the word
"specialist." I never need to hear about anything that happens in a
specialist’s office. That’s their own gross business. I would probably suggest
the student leave class right that very second, just in case her pus starts
flowing again. However, this student might be speaking to a medical school
professor whose specialty was devoted to excessive pus. If that’s the case,
then the student had better have a disgusting growth available for public
display or she’s not getting out of that classroom one second early.
Better excuse: "Sorry I have to leave class a little
early. I’ve got a doctor’s appointment because I have to get something taken
care of ... um ... down there."
Not bad. It’s not gender-specific, so either a male or
female student could use it. Also, even a medical professional is unlikely to
insist on many details in order to avoid embarrassing the student. The primary
problem with this one is that it must be said in private. If other students
hear someone making this excuse, unpleasant rumors may begin to circulate
Best possible excuse: "I think I’m going to throw
This is a classic. Any instructor can’t get the student
out of the room fast enough. Even the most hard-core medical school professors
don’t want anyone spewing on their gleaming mahogany desks.
Excuse Rule #6: Don’t
forget the details.
Last, but not least, are the little details necessary for
producing good excuses. For example, a note from a doctor would not be
written a cocktail napkin. Believe it or not, an appointment card from an
a real doctor’s office that simply says something like, "Appointment
scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday," would carry more weight than a used pizza
box that reads, "Jane is very ill with the pox and will not be in class
all week. Sincerely, Jane’s Doctor."
The really great thing about doctor’s
appointment cards is that they don’t even need to have the patient’s name or
medical condition on them to make them seem official. Students have taken their
little sisters’ orthodontist appointment cards and used them to back-up claims
of undiagnosed brain diseases.
Along the same lines, a mother would not write a note to her
daughter’s teacher on the inside of a matchbook. And a death certificate would
not be scrawled in crayon on a sheet from a spiral notebook with the frayed
edges still hanging off of it.
Details should not be ignored when students are making their
excuses in person, either. If a student claims to have been involved in a car
accident, then a whiplash collar is a nice accessory to wear around campus for
a week or two. If a student says she was bitten by a dog, then a poodle
dangling by the teeth from a selected body part may be in order. If a student
calls an instructor and claims to be in the emergency room, then sounds of a
huge party in the background will give away the excuse as bogus.
Oh, and don’t
forget a little cough or sniffle when calling to report illness. It’s a good
way to remind the instructor that you’re contagious, and everyone would be
healthier if you just stay home.
There you have it. All the information you need to make
successful excuses throughout your school years. And with just a little
creativity, you can adapt this list to the needs of the newly-hired employee
once you graduate. The same basic rules apply. For example, in both school and
workplace situations you want to keep your excuses simple. In college you might
say, "Sorry I missed class, Professor. I overslept because my roommate
used my alarm clock to put out the fire." This is good – simple and to the
point, and it’s someone else’s fault. Once you’re on the job, you could easily
modify this to, "Sorry I was late for work, boss. My alarm clock is still
being held as evidence at the police station." See how easy that is?
I hope you’ve found this list instructive. Now you’re ready
to go out there and make some excuses of your own. Sorry I can’t stay to help.
I just got a call that a supermodel broke her ankle and they need me to fill in
for the swimsuit photo shoot in Maui. I’m sure you understand.