Reader's Digest has an excerpt from another one of Frank's memoir, Teacher Man, about his experience dealing with his students' forged notes:
Isn’t it remarkable, I thought, how the students whined and said it was hard putting 200 words together on any subject? But when they forged excuse notes, they were brilliant. The notes I had could be turned into an anthology of Great American Excuses. They were samples of talent never mentioned in song, story or study.
How could I have ignored this treasure trove, these gems of fiction and fantasy? Here was American high school writing at its best—raw, real, urgent, lucid, brief, and lying. I read:
• The stove caught fire and the wallpaper went up and the fire department kept us out of the house all night.
• Arnold was getting off the train and the door closed on his school bag and the train took it away. He yelled to the conductor who said very vulgar things as the train drove away.
• His sister’s dog ate his homework and I hope it chokes him.
• We were evicted from our apartment and the mean sheriff said if my son kept yelling for his notebook he’d have us all arrested.
The writers of these notes didn’t realize that honest excuse notes were usually dull: “Peter was late because the alarm clock didn’t go off.” One day I typed out a dozen excuse notes and distributed them to my senior classes. The students read them silently, intently. “Mr. McCourt, who wrote these?” asked one boy.
“You did,” I said. “I omitted names to protect the guilty. They’re supposed to be written by parents, but you and I know the real authors. Yes, Mikey?”
“So what are we supposed to do?”
“This is the first class to study the art of the excuse note—the first class, ever, to practice writing them. You’re so lucky to have a teacher like me who has taken your best writing and turned it into a subject worthy of study.”
Everyone smiled as I went on, “You didn’t settle for the old alarm clock story. You used your imaginations. One day you might be writing excuses for your own children when they’re late or absent or up to some devilment. So try it now. Imagine you have a 15-year-old who needs an excuse for falling behind in English. Let it rip.”