Sunday, February 27, 2011

Attendance matters: The Basics

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As much as we would like to kid and joke about kids showing up for school, the simple fact is that being there makes a huge difference in a multitude of ways for the proper functioning of the institution.  And as much as society wants to point fingers at educators for the ills of society, much of it has to be pointed back to the parents of the students that simply don’t show up.

And this isn’t a class issue.  Much of our younger demographic that doesn’t show up does happen to be related to a certain ethnicity, though it isn’t about gangs as much as it is culture.  Trips to Mexico occur mid-year and pulverize any chance many kids have to maintain a higher standard of academia.  However as the years move on the attendance shifts to a different demographic that has to do with age.  Seniors.  The oft-named “Senioritis” is a disease that occurs during the final year of a high school career where students and parents make decisions that often damage attendance, which in turn reflects on grades.  Some of it is considered legitimate; field trips, college visitations, and “opportunities”.  Others are not; trips to the lake, not getting out of bed, family vacations.  Regardless of the reason, the teacher is caught in an interesting position when it comes to “make-up” work.

The best thing I have found with Seniors is that you provide them with as much access as possible, and then forget about why they are gone.  In my classroom there are three ways to get the work; online, on the white board, or in a binder that is kept every day.  The students have all the opportunity that stay caught up, although only the best usually do.  As mean as it sounds about “why” they are gone, it is actually the most consistent and valuable method of dealing with attendance.  Barring a serious catastrophic event, the reason for absence is pretty much irrelevant because the absence is not what damages grades as much as the organizational skills, or lack of those skills, by the student.  Most of my absences, I’d say 3/4, are what’s called “unexcused”, meaning either the Senior signs themselves out or the parent gives an excuse that is not “my kid is sick”.  The next 20% are “excused” (either parent called or a note), and only about 5% are cuts.  You might say “only 5% cut”?  No, only five percent don’t get the cut taken care of.  Parents rarely allow their precious little darlings to take the consequences of their actions, so must cuts are dealt with a swipe of Mom’s pen.  As an person in the know told me, “We have more absences now than ever within the last 15 years, and the problem is that parents are excusing them all”.     

Over the next few days I’ll be giving some perspective about attendance in a little more detail, from a teacher’s point-of-view.  I think that it is one of the most overlooked problems in education, one that teachers really can’t control and one that can devastate the budget of public schools.  I’ll address how I deal with low level learners, “gifted” students, a typical Senior, and how the hypocrisy of charter schools shows that society real wants education to be a Race to the Bottom.

Feel free to chime in.

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