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‘See What Had Happened Was…’

Lincoln’s fall semester ends in early December, which means Thanksgiving is just a brief respite before the rush of the last week of classes.

Over the past few days, I’ve been getting my share of e-mails from students concerned about passing my courses. When the semester began, I made my expectations clear: no excuses, no missed assignments and no extra credit.

Some of my students didn’t take my expectations seriously and are now scrambling to figure out a way not to retake the courses in the spring semester or next fall. Some of the students have owned up to their lack of seriousness for the first 13 weeks of the semester and have put in an extra effort to somehow salvage their grades.

However, others haven’t been so contrite. When I’ve confronted a couple of students on why they haven’t turned in assignments and why they’re failing my class, they’ve given me the “See what had happened was…” excuse.

The “See what had happened was…” excuse is common in college. Students get creative in trying to figure out excuses to gain sympathy from their instructors in order to save themselves from a failing grade.


Once, a student sent me an email noting that she wasn’t in class because she had been admitted to the hospital and would be staying there for a few days. That would have seemed plausible had I not run into that same student hanging outside of a classroom talking to a friend just 10 minutes after I read her email!

Another time, a student told me she couldn’t make it to class because her car had broken down. She said she had no ride and could no longer come to campus. The next morning, she was driving a car to pick up a friend outside of the building where my office is located. When she saw me, her face turned pale and then red. She wrote me an email explaining that “see what happened was…” it was her sister’s car.

One of the best “see what happened was” stories involved a student telling me that he missed class — and an important quiz — because his alarm clock was broken. He asked if he could take the quiz on account of the fact that his absence wasn’t his fault — it was his alarm clock’s. Needless to say, that request was denied.

I’ve had some creative “See what had happened was…” excuses at some of the other places I’ve taught, but a few of my Lincoln students have worked hard to win the award for most creative — but transparently fake — excuse. One student missed two weeks of classes and had a different excuse for every class she missed. I almost wanted to give her an award.

During the final weeks of the semester, some students work extra hard to be creative in their excuses. While I listen to their “See what had happened was…” explanations and keep an open mind, I always think about how well they would have done in my class if they had put the same effort into class work as they did in making excuses.

I think the pressure we face as educators is separating the legitimate stories from the lies. The key for me has been to remain open-minded when students come and talk to me about their struggles without being cynical about their reasons.

While I think I’ve been able to keen an open mind and a sympathetic ear, I never cease to be amused by the occasional “See what had happened was…” tale.


Dr. Murali Balaji is an assistant professor in the Department of English and Mass Communications at Lincoln University.


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