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A Positive Classroom Climate: Handling Excuses for not Doing Homework

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 1/17/2012

Excuses for not doing homework have been around for years. We all know that 90% of the excuses are fabricated, but what can teachers do to discourage the liars while giving that 10% telling the truth a fair shake. Here are some suggestions.

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    The Whole Truth

    Student excuses for no homework abound. Most of them are fabrications. Every now and then, however, we come across excuses that may be true. What, then, is a teacher to do? Here are a few suggestions:

    1. Be clear. State your homework policy at the start of a new school year and refresh your students' memory several times during the first month of school. If you feel the excuses are getting out of control, reestablish your policy.
    2. Be consistent. Nothing gets a teacher in more trouble (outside of inappropriate relations, punching a student in the face, or showing up to work drunk) than inconsistency. If you have a zero tolerance policy then it's a zero tolerance policy for everybody.
    3. Use common sense. If you do have a zero tolerance policy, create a stipulation that gives you the final say. If, for example, a student completes the first seventeen assignments and comes to you before class and tells you she left the eighteenth assignment at home, she's probably telling the truth.
    4. Stress communication. Tell students to let you know in advance if there's going to be a problem. If they truly forgot their homework, they should be able to talk to you before class.
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    Preventing Excuses and other Homework Annoyances

    The above are general rules on how to handle excuses for no homework. The following ideas will help you proactively avoid the entire problem.

    1. Homework Extension Passes: At the start of each quarter, give each student 1-2 homework extension passes, with opportunities to earn more as the year progresses. When a student provides an excuse for forgetting his homework or a reason for not doing his homework, then he or she can simply turn it in late, with the homework extension pass attached for full credit. To avoid the end of the semester deluge, put a time limit on it, and only make certain assignments eligible.
    2. Parent or Guardian Signature or E-mail or Phone Call: You've heard it before: "I left my homework on my dresser. I swear it's done." It gets annoying. Instead of rolling your eyes and ramming your head against a desk, just tell them to bring in a note, signed by the parent or guardian, testifying that the assignment was done on time. Make sure the note contains a phone number and an e-mail address in case you wish to follow up.
    3. After School Visit: The problem with how to handle excuses for forgetting homework is that sometimes (probably not your students, but this does happen) students copy the assignment from a friend or just write the answers down when you go over them in class. For these assignments--vocabulary or math problems, for example--make students come in after school and do the assignment in front of you.
    4. A Small Penalty: You can establish a late work policy that assesses a penalty for late work. Anything more than 10% per day discourages student effort, so be careful.
    5. Homework Percentage: The purpose of homework should be practice. Practice should only account for a small percentage of the grade. Some students meet or exceed standards with little or no effort on homework.
    6. Just Say No: Sometimes the best thing for a student is to tell him or her 'no.'
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