With great difficulty, I peeled my eyes open. Even in the early morning dimness, they protested indignantly. I reached for my phone and squeezed my eyelids to narrow slits in preparation for the onslaught of light that would bleach my retinas. 7:43 am. I groaned. Briefly, I considered skipping the shower and adding an extra 15 minutes in bed. After running my hand through my hair, I couldn’t convince even myself that it was a good idea. I cancelled my 7:45 alarm regretfully and stumbled out of bed.
Despite the ample time to get myself presentable for the 9am tutorial, the lure of checking social media meant that I was still late leaving the house. Perhaps I didn’t need to watch two men on melodicas playing a mash up of all the songs from West Side Story, but I insist it was still the best decision I made all morning. (No, seriously, it’s amazing. Please watch it).
Anyhow, two years of being basically shut up in the medical school meant that the layout of the rest of the campus was basically a mystery to me. The tutorial was scheduled to take place somewhere in the bowels of the geography/geology building. Wandering aimlessly around the unfamiliar corridors cost me a few extra minutes. I eventually burst into the seminar room, where eleven unfamiliar heads simultaneously turned to look at me. Despite my lateness, the tutor was still absent. My cheeks immediately warmed and I knew I was blushing like a beacon. Cursing my body’s reaction to any scrutiny, I made my way to an available seat.
In the deafening silence, I fired up my laptop and pulled up one of the articles we were supposed to be discussing in the session. Other students had an array of equipment poised in front of them. Notebooks, pens, phones, one other laptop. The glaringly obvious lack of a tutor, however, maintained the stony silence.
“Should have stayed in bed,” a woman grumbled. A few others quietly laughed and murmured their assent. The silence ensued.
I self-consciously tapped some notes from the article into an open document. The click of the keys rang loud in the room. 9:12am.
“I don’t know what it’s like here,” a softly-accented voice piped up timidly, “but in my country, if there is no tutor for fifteen minutes we can go.”
There it was. The “urban myth” that I first heard in secondary school and followed me to this day. At first I dismissed it as wishful thinking: bored students hoping that a cover teacher is just late enough to a lesson to justify them bunking class. I’ve heard this so often in so many different contexts, however, that I start to wonder if it’s an unwritten rule of education that this “law” is mentioned if a class goes unsupervised for more than ten minutes.
I was amused to find that this urban myth transcends cultures, however. The exact same rule: fifteen unsupervised minutes after the start of class gets you a get-out-of-jail-free card. The myth evidently survived the ravages of time and distance and remained unchanged from when I first heard it so many years ago. I idly wondered whether multicultural universities allowed the spread this “law” around the globe or if students around the world just simultaneously thought that they’re entitled to a free hour if a teacher is excessively late.
9:15. The students looked at each other, not willing to make the first move. Someone muttered something about emailing the module lead, and one by one the students trudged out of the door.
I remained in my chair, typing. The silence, though still complete, doesn’t seem as loud as before. I got out of bed for this, I grumbled. Might as well stay in uni and finish the work.
My stomach squawked loudly. Or, I thought, I could work at home and have food whilst I’m at it.
The lure of snacks and a comfortable perch to work won out. I gave up on the tutorial and made my way back home.