When the Teacher Is Tested

Professor Lancaster Markem was into the third week of fall semester at Heliotrope University  when he noticed that one of his English 101 students had been absent for an entire week. Sometimes new freshmen decide that college is not for them so, without a word, they leave and don’t come back. But this student, Turk Thrust was the name on the official roster, was back in class the following Monday.

“Professor Markem, I am sorry for missing class, but my best friend was killed in an automobile accident, and I just didn’t have the heart for studying. May I make up the work I missed?” Turk asked with a grief-stricken face.

Moved by genuine sympathy, Markem replied, “Of course you may make up the work.”

Well, Turk was in class the entire week, but he was absent the following week and the week after that.

When Turk finally re-appeared in class, he said, “Sir, my grandfather died. He and I were very close, and I was devastated by his death. He was always there for me when I needed him, and he and I had a special bond. I don’t know what I’m going to do without him. May I make up the work I missed?”

Markem was a bit skeptical because Turk had not made up any of the work he had missed, but he recalled the loss of his own grandfather, so he said to the sad-eyed Turk, “I understand your loss. Under the circumstances you may make up the work.”

Turk came to class all that week, but the following week he was absent. Gone again.

Markem was shopping at Provender’s Market on Saturday afternoon when he rounded an aisle and ran right into Turk Thrust, his wayward student, who was quite obviously astonished to encounter  his professor off campus. 

At first Turk was speechless, but he finally pulled himself together and said, “I’m sorry to miss class, but my mother died.”

Markem was on the cusp of denouncing Turk and reading him the proverbial riot act and calling him a shameless liar when he was stopped by a sudden thought: What if Turk were telling the truth? Mothers do die. What kind of a human being would Markem be if he showed no compassion? The answer: a lousy, miserable excuse for a human being, somewhere between a Mickey Mouse de Sade and Vlad the Impaler. 

So Markem said, “Turk, I am so sorry. It is heart breaking to lose a parent.” 

Early the next Monday morning, Turk was waiting at the door of Markem’s office and asked if he might talk with him. Turk then confessed that his mother had not died. “I was so shocked when I saw you that I couldn’t think of anything else to say.”

Markem was moved by Turk’s honesty and said, “Thank goodness your mother is not dead. And your best friend and your grandfather are not dead either. Is that right?”

Turk nodded, crestfallen.

Markem then explained to Turk that he was only hurting himself by missing class, but he was so moved by Turk’s honesty that he said, “Turk, I am proud of you that you came clean with me. It indicates that you have learned a valuable life lesson. As a reward for being honest, I will allow you to make up the work you missed.

Turk brightened instantly, “Thank you, Professor Markem. Now just watch my dust.” 

Markem did not see Turk again the rest of the semester, and the lad had not turned in any work he had missed. “He’s gone for good this time,” Markem muttered to himself.

But on the day of the final exam Turk was in class, and he seemed eager to write the exam. Markem did not tell Turk that no matter how well he did on the exam, he did not have enough points to pass the class. If Turk wanted to take the exam, Markem was not going to stop him.

Turk filled an entire Blue Book. He stayed the full two hours, and he was the last student to leave the room.

As soon as the door closed, Markem picked up Turk’s Blue Book, leafed through it, and discovered that Turk had not answered a single exam question. Instead, he had filled the pages on both sides with eloquent praise of the course, saying it was his favorite class of the semester and that he had learned so much about writing. In several different ways he called Markem the finest teacher he had ever studied under and that he was looking forward to being in his English 102 class next semester. It was the kind of student evaluation that any professor would kill to get. 

Markem sighed heavily and muttered to himself, “This lad might someday be governor of Illinois, but he doesn’t pass English 101 this semester.”