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A new generation of homework excuses

BEFORE ASKING FOR completed homework assignments, all teachers need to don their most important piece of equipment. B.S.-PROOF GOGGLES. And then stand well back. Here they come:

“It’s in my locker and I lost the key.”

“I forgot it at home in my other bag.”

“My helper forgot to remind me.”

Teachers have heard them all, from the classic “the dog ate my homework” to the more extreme “our house burned down”, to the distinctly implausible: “A burglar stole my notes.”  (Housebreaker tiptoeing through apartment with a flashlight: “There’s gotta be notes for an essay on Shakespeare’s use of iambic pentameter somewhere.”)

But, as times and situations change, so do the excuses. Balancing tertiary studies and the duties of a mother of a two-year-old and a six-month-old with teething problems, I was once compelled to tell my professor that “the baby ate my homework”. True story.

With the arrival of Covid-19 and online schooling, however, the nature of excuses have evolved to more technical-related issues.

“It’s in my locker” or “I left it at home” has evolved to “It’s in my parent’s laptop” or “It’s on my computer (which I forgot to bring).”

“The dog ate it” is now “The printer ate it.”

Interestingly, we now often have “My WiFi crashed” – which always seems to happen at the exact moment the teacher is giving a very important instruction on Zoom.

One student, not one of mine, wrote to his teacher Mr Jones that he had dropped out of a Zoom class because his “wife was really unstable just now”. I think he meant “Wi-Fi”.

And of course there is the “the battery died” – which happens precisely when an assignment is being submitted or completed. One wonders, did they know the battery was running low while they were playing “Among Us” or scrolling through memes?

But this columnist is not just a teacher but also a parent of students.

Child Number Three is in his first year of primary school. Forced to switch several times between on-line classes and face-to-face ones, our poor seven-year-old has developed anxiety and started experimenting with his own line of excuses. Still new to the game, though, he has yet to master that wonderful tool called logic.

Having used the “my head hurts” and “stomach not feeling well” excuses more than once before, he felt he should add a bit more gravity to the situation with the additional symptoms of “a heavy finger” and “hands are shaking”.

After being told very seriously that such symptoms require a visit to the doctor and possible injection to the affected area, he miraculously recovered.

But this teacher is still waiting to hear a student give what must surely be the ultimate truthful Hong Kong excuse:

“My mom is in quarantine and couldn’t send my homework for me.”

* * *

Lisa Ip Baczkowski is a teacher and mother of four in Hong Kong. See-Lai is local slang for an archetypal Hong Kong housewife


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