Extenuating Circumstances

As I passed out today’s scheduled quiz, a student said, “It’s totally my fault, but I didn’t do the reading for today. I put it off too long, and I had to take care of a family member last night. Can I please take the quiz tomorrow?”

There’s the situation. If you’re an educator, give yourself a moment and think about the right thing to do.

I believe in “extenuating circumstances.” Sometimes life gets in the way of our well-intentioned plans, and some things arise that are more important than my homework assignments. Even when students have known about the assignment for several days and been encouraged to plan ahead, things come up at the last minute. Yes, I believe in extenuating circumstances.

So, I led with my heart on this one. The student’s acceptance of responsibility and polite approach made a good impression. It’s early in the year, and I don’t want to poison any relationships for the rest of the year, so I said, “OK. I’ll put this in test make-up for you.” (Test make-up is a supervised room at our school where teachers place tests and quizzes for absent students who then go there during lunch or study periods to complete the tests.)

Immediately, another student said with all sincerity, “I forgot to read too. Can I do mine in test make-up?” Almost as if an echo, another one piped up: “I got called into work last night. Can I do my quiz tomorrow too? It won’t happen again.” And twenty-seven other students looked at me, pens and pencils poised, ready to take the quiz.

I said, “Wait a minute. This is becoming an avalanche. Everyone knew about this reading and this quiz well in advance, so everybody needs to take this quiz.” And I gave the quiz to everyone, including the student who originally asked for and been granted an extension.

Consistency, fairness, and communication are all factors in this situation that I clearly booted. After class, I told the first student, “If you have extenuating circumstances like that, you need to communicate with me sooner, better, and more privately. When others started jumping on board, the situation changed, and I had to make a different decision.” The student apologized—which I assured her was unnecessary—and I think we’ll be fine going forward.

Feel free to troubleshoot this scenario. Maybe it’s useful to know and think about situations that come up in other teachers’ classrooms so we’re ready when they surface in ours.

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3 Responses to Extenuating Circumstances

  1. Karen says:

    What a fine line between being human and being a push-over. Personal responsibility is such an important way of being for kids to learn. Thanks for modeling it.


  2. Dana Huff says:

    I think you made the right call. The first student may have been sincere, but you don’t want to be a pushover. You are setting the tone for the year, and students will learn that your expectation is to do the work. Your private aside about why you changed your mind was spot on. I give kids a break for extenuating circumstances, too.


  3. I completely agree with your decisions. I wonder if I would have been able to process and make a quality decision in that pressure cooker situation. As other comments have said, this is a great model for a tough situation. I have something in my syllabus about extenuating circumstances and a note about talking to me. I think I may add ‘privately’ and ‘as soon as possible.’


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