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Top Ten Most Outrageous Student Stories: You Can't Make This Stuff Up but These Students Did

by on September 23, 2013 9:39 AM

I found myself brimming with pride last week when a student sent me an email, a week in advance, to tell me she would be out of class for a professional development activity and had already turned in the assignments that would come due during her absence.

The middle-aged, teacher of 21+ years, cynic in me occasionally loses sight of the fact that most of the students who come through our classes and our offices are great kids who are motivated, excited and are focused on doing the work instead of getting out of it.

Unfortunately, it's that small percentage of students who force us to ask for things like documentation from the funeral home when Grandma dies or a picture of the dog's stomach contents to show that Fido really did eat the homework.

Gather a bunch of faculty members and ask them to tell you their best and most outrageous student stories and you won't believe what you hear.

Like David Letterman's evening countdown, I'll call this the Top Ten Most Outrageous Student Stories. (These stories are all true but the names have been changed to protect the innocent).

Number 10. Student who is failing a class steps forward to say that he witnessed a football player cheating on an exam. In the course of the investigation, we realize his eyewitness account has some pretty big holes in it. He's sketchy on details and won't give up the name of the football player until after he asks, "What can you do to help me out with my grade?" I found myself looking around for Tony Soprano. In the end, the football player was cleared and the accuser got a trip to the Office of Student Conduct.

Number 9. Outrageous student emails. Some come in text language. Can I trn it in 2 u tom? Others show the immediacy of this generation. "I'm standing outside of your office and no one is here. What should I do with my paper?" (The email came in at 6:53 PM). Occasionally, they use email to let me know what they think. I don't wanna come off mean or a brat but I need to express my opinion. I didn't like you or enjoy your class Patty, particularly the way you acted towards your students.

Sometimes it's best to wait until the morning before hitting the send button.

Number 8. A student does not follow the directions for a major assignment and ends up earning a D in the class. She comes into my office and, in tears, insists that I change the grade because "I don't get Ds." She further digs herself a hole by adding, "I'm not even in this major so this class shouldn't really count." Actually, this is my major so it does in fact count.

Number 7. Parents. Parents who call to ask why their kids earned a grade. Parents who ask to sit in on advising meetings. Parents who want to know how we could accuse Johnny or Susie of cheating or why we would hold them to a deadline, or not send an extra reminder that an assignment was due. Parents who ask to meet with us after their son or daughter has failed an internship for the second time and are mad at Penn State because, "You are costing us money." Parents who are usually shocked when we give them all the details -- the course syllabus, the emails, the phone logs and the other half of the story that the student forgot to mention. I often wonder about those long car rides home.

Number 6. Student submits a paper in which ¾ of the paper is in a different font. A quick check of the internet reveals that portion of the paper was cut and pasted –- in that font -- exactly from a website. When confronted, the students sheepishly says, "I guess I forgot to edit my paper." I might suggest that you actually forgot to write the paper.

Number 5. The coincidence. Inevitably when two students are busted for submitting the same paper for an assignment, the first response when confronted is, "It must be a coincidence." The second is, "It was an accident. We were using the same computer and I must have sent you his/her paper instead of mine." Over the years I've heard it from roommates, teammates, sorority sisters and fraternity brothers, siblings and even twins. There are apparently a significant number of clairvoyants on the Penn State campus. Tied for number 5 is the student who plagiarized his roommate's resume.

Regardless of gender, they always cry when they get caught.

Number 4. In keeping with university policy, a student who was accused of plagiarism by a faculty member, asked for and was given an opportunity to contest the sanctions of the zero on the paper (she ended up earning a B+ in the course). In the hearing, the student is adamant that, despite the fact that she took that shortcut, she, "worked really hard" and deserves an A in the course. The room fell silent as those of us on the committee looked at each other, mouths agape at the audacity of this kid. Finally, I said "I just have one final question. What do we tell the kids who didn't cheat?" She had no response. The committee upheld the sanction.

Number 3. The long term care facility where a student was interning called to ask us to come to a meeting in which the student was going to be let go. After a series of showing up late, dressing inappropriately and other performance issues, the supervisor witnessed the student sitting with a patient with dementia, looking at a magazine with pictures of puppies in it. Unaware that the supervisor was standing in the doorway, the student began making puppy sounds and noises and then laughed hysterically when the patient began looking around the room to "find" the puppy. "How could you?" we asked. "It was just a joke," the student replied. I almost had to be physically restrained. The word "karma" comes to mind with a kid like this.

Number 2. Student shows up for a teambuilding program at Penn State's Shaver's Creek Environmental Center under the influence (e.g. higher than a kite). Unsure of how far I could go without proof, I alerted the hosts of our field trip so that he wouldn't put other students at risk (I later found out I had the authority to kick him out). The story doesn't end there. When he submitted his summary paper, the final paragraph included these thoughts. "Sorry for being impaired on the field trip. I was really hung over from the night before so I thought a toke might settle my stomach. Unfortunately, I can't remember most of what I'm supposed to right (sic) about in this paper."

I couldn't make this stuff up.

And finally, Number 1. The student who confided in me that he had cancer and was going through chemotherapy. He was really sorry about missing classes and not being able to help with his group project. He was even more sorry when we found out it was a lie. No cancer. No chemo. Just a kid who wanted to get out of work. Have I already mentioned karma?

From an advisor being asked to hem a student's pants to the female student offering, "I will do anything and I mean anything to get an A" to a male faculty member, the stories are sometimes comical. Thankfully, most students use their time with us to learn and then go on make us Penn State proud.

As for the others, at least it provides a smile.

Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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