Reading comic strips in the newspaper is one of my daily intellectual pursuits now that I’m a retiree. Recently, Charlie Brown of Peanuts fame was trying to explain about his Africa report to his teacher, or more accurately his lack of a report. This was the report that would have been on Africa; the one he had intentions of completing; the one he never got around to doing. Finally, running out of excuses, Charlie said, “I throw myself upon the mercy of the court.” Charlie’s final statement was telling. Teacher as judge? Could be!

Teachers receive many excuses from students, K-12 through university. Not surprisingly, students seem to be at their creative best when an assignment has not been completed by deadline. “The dog ate my homework,” “Mom threw my homework away,” “I lost my assignment on the way to school,” and “I spilled my milk on my report during breakfast” were excuses when I first started teaching in elementary school. Years later these excuses, slightly tweaked but still much the same, were offered by students enrolled in my university classes. Here is a small sampling:

·        I was headed for the computer lab to print out my assignment when I had to slam on the brakes because a car pulled out in front of me. The coffee splashed out of my cup and drenched my floppy disk.
·        I spilled my coke on the CD.
·        Unlike the married students in class who seem to get all of the good grades, I have a lot going on in my life with dating, holding a student government office, and taking a full load of courses. I just did not have time in my schedule to get this assignment done.
·        I didn’t notice this assignment on the syllabus until I was looking at the grading scale last night and just happened to see it.

No, I did not make these up!

The excuse I classify as my favorite was provided to me during my first year of teaching. That excuse did not concern an assignment but was a written excuse handed to me by a first grader. The principal’s unbendable policy required students to have a written excuse from a parent when returning to school following an absence. Minus the aforementioned excuse, the child would have the privilege of meeting with the principal in her office to give an account for her mother’s failure to comply with the rule.

Following a one day absence, Cindy* arrived at my classroom door accompanied by her older sister. After I welcomed her back, she proudly handed me a sheet of notebook paper that had been folded in half. Both Cindy and older sis watched as I unfolded the paper and read the neatly penned note:

Dear mrs Powrs,
Cindy was sik. That why she miss school.
Sign her mom

No, I didn’t send her to the office. The “letter of the law” had been met. It was a note. It was signed, “her mom.” (That would be a parent, right?) Teacher as judge – that would be me.

*Fictitious name


  1. ...and I love your judgment, tendered with mercy.

    Darn those married university students anyway. They get all the breaks and have nothing else to do but meet the requirements of your class.

  2. Do you have any good ones, you know, the ones that actually worked for you? I still have a quarter to go, I might need one???

  3. Vanilla, those married university students have jobs and families and often carry full course loads. You can imagine how I felt about that excuse:)

    Captain Nancy, I'm afraid I wasn't a total pushover. But if you were in first grade...