As an English lecturer I have papers due all the time. I tell students to be prepared, on the day their big assignment is due, a lot of their grandparents might get sick or even die. Not their parents, luckily. Students love their parents and are afraid to lie about them being sick. But students don’t really love their grandparents that much — maybe it’s the old person smell? Whatever the reason, they’re perfectly willing to give them heart attacks, strokes or even have them die in imaginary train accidents.
Here’s a rundown on what to do to not fall victim to student fabulism:
MY GRANDPA DIED
Demand to see the grandparent’s death certificate. Not a photocopy or a fax, that’s too easy to forge — you need the original. Also, demand to see tears. If grandpa is dead, why are your eyes so dry? Finally, ask the student to call the dead grandparent’s spouse on the phone so that you may express your condolences to the new widow/widower. You will see a look of alarm and disbelief as the student’s eyes bulge. Simply respond, “No, I’m not kidding.”
I GOT IN A CAR ACCIDENT
I’ve noticed lately that students embellish this bullshit with a series of photos they text me of a slightly damaged vehicle. I wonder, how can I be sure that this is their fender-bendered car in the photos? Couldn’t they have just gone up to any smashed up car and snapped a few frames? Ask them to present the registration for the vehicle and see if it matches with the make/model in the photos. Once again, eyes will bulge. This is a good sign — you are breaking them.
“Oh, and by the way,” you might add. “I’ve gotten in a fender bender before. I pulled over, exchanged information with the other driver, and went on my way. It didn’t prevent me from doing jack shit. What was it about this little car accident that froze time and put you in a state of suspended animation for five days? If your answer isn’t medically induced coma, keep it to yourself.”
I HAD A FAMILY EMERGENCY
If I receive this email I immediately phone the student. “Oh my God, I want to help, I’ll be right over. I got your address from the registrar, so I know exactly where you live. I’m bringing help, don’t panic. I’ve got water, medical supplies, a team of physicians, nurses and grievance counselors to help you all through it. Oh, by the way, what kind of emergency was it?”
At that point they usually say, “Oh, you don’t have to go to all that trouble. The family emergency is OK now.”
“No, it isn’t,” I will say. “Because I don’t have your paper. So there’s now a new family emergency — you are failing my class.”
Now, I admit, these are pretty harsh measures, and it is possible that every once in a while the student will be telling the truth and these reactions will just be rubbing salt in his/her wounds. But the alternative is impossible. Students who trick professors with these lame excuses are setting themselves up for a disaster — because they are convincing themselves that the rules don’t apply to them, that they are special, and deserve special exemption and consideration.
People like that will make horrible decisions later in life, like, “I don’t have to get a real job. I’ll just become a teacher instead.”
And that, my friends, is a tragedy that should be avoided at all costs.