The Magical Piece of Paper

“But I have a doctor’s note/police report/bill for towing.”


In my syllabus, I say that neither homework nor quizzes may be made up for any reason. Each quiz counts a little less than half a percent of the total grade. Each homework counts less. I drop four low homeworks and three low quizzes. I am not going to spend my time and effort verifying excuses for that part of the grade.

Besides, I can’t verify them. I don’t know what a doctor’s note should look like. I would assume that any student with any brains could come up with a plausible-looking letterhead for a doctor and a friend could easily write a note. How am I supposed to tell if an excuse is genuine? The piece of paper doesn’t really help.

Somehow, the assumption is made that I should be able to tell that this piece of paper they waive at me is real and verifies what a student is telling me. Don’t get me wrong. I always believe what they tell me, but I don’t change my actions because of it. I know I can be fooled.

I have a strong aversion to judging excuses. I remember listening to a long story about how an accident blocked the entrance of a cul-de-sac for an hour, which explained why a student missed class. The story was essentially unverifiable, and easily could have been true. Or false. I can’t tell. A piece of paper only tells me that if the student is lying, he went to more effort to back up the lie.


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