College can be stressful. With countless hours spent in the classroom and lists of tests and assignments that can seem extremely overwhelming, professors often hear students making excuses for late work and classroom absences. Now, whether the excuse is true or not is a whole other story, but being told excuses will happen countless times.
At Northwestern, professors Sara Tolsma and Scott Monsma both agree the most common excuse they get is sickness. Students will tell their teachers that they were not feeling well or too sick to come to class.
Professors have no way of telling whether or not that is true; they just have to take students at their word.
“I trust most students until I have a reason not to,” Monsma said. “So if a student is sick all the time I might start checking up on it. If I happen to see them walking across campus right after class I get a little suspicious.”
However, the excuses are not always about a common illness. Monsma said that the most creative excuse he ever recieved was when a student missed his class because he had read a book about a man who walked across America to figure out his life.
The student decided to see what it felt like and walked the 12 miles to Sioux Center.
Monsma would not recommend that, especially since it was snowing at the time. However, he said he counted that as an excused absence.
Monsma has had other excuses throughout his years of teaching as well, and says that no matter the reason a person misses, he would much rather have the person just tell the truth.
“I mean I’ve had students that have not always been honest,” Monsma said. “One student told me he had to go back home for a family emergency, and other students told me it wasn’t actually back home but it was in Kansas to see a football game.” Monsma then sent the student an email saying he hoped he enjoyed the game. “He should’ve just been honest,” Monsma said.
Tolsma says she is not sure she can always tell when a student is lying, but says she does catch some. “I think I can tell when a student is a truthful person, but I think all of us exaggerate the truth occasionally when we are under a lot of stress, and college is a place of a lot of stress,” Tolsma said.
Both Tolsma and Monsma said they understand that life happens, and that they want to extend grace. Sometimes leniency is not always an option, but for the most part they both want to be understanding.
Monsma told one story of skipping class when he was in high school. He just didn’t want to go to school, so he had a friend write a note for him. However, it didn’t work and he got caught.
“I don’t know [why students feel the need to make up excuses],”Tolsma said. “Maybe it’s that they don’t trust us to give them grace if they need grace.”
Monsma blames pressure and expectations, as well as being overwhelmed.
Time and time again, students are faced with the stress of school. In response, it is likely they will find ways to lessen their workload, often by attempting to convince their professors to excuse their late work or absence.