The Pit Bull Ate My Homework

Actually, the student wrote:

“I have a big problem with my paper that is due tomorrow. The notes that I took have are gone I think my roommates pit bull ate them, for real, they are nowhere to be found.”

I am writing about this episode not to ridicule a student (who opened herself up to sharp rebuke), but because this was my first dog ate my homework affair.

I responded:

“Sorry but you can’t get an extension with a request this late. Do better on the remaining assignments. The assignment due today you can make your third narrative assignment since you’ve already put work into it.”

Sometimes, for my journalism writing classes, I get picky and point out that the assignment involved an “article” not a “paper,” but I didn’t do that this time.
And the student responded:

I need to know how this is going to affect my grade. Am I going to get a zero? How will this affect my final grade

[Not a zero, but an F as described in the syllabus and guidelines [which many students either don’t read or ignore]. And I responded:

Your final grade will depend on how you complete the rest of your assignments. You can easily check the syllabus for the percentages and get an idea. Since you say you’ve already invested time in this assignment, you can make this your third assignment. Which is what I suggested. I can give extensions if notified ahead of time. The day of and the day before are insufficient notice. Also, telling some instructor that the pit bull ate your notes, whether it did or didn’t, isn’t really unwise.”

And the student responded:

Well I was just being truthful with you about the situation, wise or unwise as it may have been. Should I lie next time?

Is she lying now? Will she lie in the future? Has she lied before? I don’t know. I have no answers. I didn’t respond. I didn’t want to challenge the student’s veracity. I didn’t have the incontrovertible info I would want for that kind of challenge, so I chose not to enter that arena. However, I had conducted an intense class discussion about the validity of excuses for missed assignments a few weeks earlier after a snow storm hit the NYC metro area and I received an email from a student saying she couldn’t come to class and turn in an assignment because of “the snow.”

This student lived on Staten Island yet other students from that borough who had said they couldn’t make it to campus that day because of the inclement weather  emailed assignments, and others from the same island showed up for classes with the assignments. As one student from Staten Island subsequently said in class, a paraphrase: Some parts got heavy show, some didn’t. I wanted to use the discussion to clarify  the rules and guidelines and reasoning regarding late assignments.

I had even tried this for consideration, saying to one class,  I might have been more convinced if the student had cell-ed or emailed me a picture of the snow but that led to another student saying, words to the affect of: Well, what if my baby pukes, you want a picture of that? So, in so many words, I responded, saying in a chastising tone, this is a communication type class and effective communication between instructor and student can be salubrious for both and sometimes pictures can be more communicative than merely writing “snow” in an email. So, the snow student got an F for the missed assignment.

And, of course, I did last semester get an email from a student saying that she couldn’t come to class because of “kid puke.”

Anyway, I tried. I don’t easily entertain excuses about missed assignments because there is more than sufficient homework in my classes for students to make up a F or two, depending on the assignments, yet allow me to evaluate their final grades based on their overall performances even if there were one or two SNAFUs. This grading method can be subject to unwanted academic intrusions from influential colleagues, influential either by rank or committee standing, like a grade appeals committee, like the likes of The Four Barnacles of the Apocalypse [or, maybe, eventually, The Four Barnacles for the Apocalypse – I’m not sure yet], poised to undermine a colleague’s classes by helping students get grades they don’t deserve.

I kid you not.

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