Saturday, March 12, 2011

Attendance Matters: Better Things to Do


Believe it or not, I have less problem with lower level students than with Gifted Students in regards to attendance.  Part of the reason for that is that most students that have had attendance issues have been transferred to the local continuation high school for credit recovery.  This means that most students, Seniors in particular, realize that the end is near and start to focus on getting out of dodge.  Still, there is always a group (larger this year) that feels that they have better things to do than class, even with the reasoned lessons on opportunity class, and marginal benefit versus marginal cost.

Currently, out of about 90 College Prep students, I have 21 F’s.  Out of those 21 students, ten percent are due to issues not revolving around attendance.  These are students that are slogging it out in a tough class, some with low reading levels, others with second language issues.  But they are there daily, usually contributing, trying really hard to push through the Dismal Science.  They will pass, they will succeed, and the work will make them really feel as if they accomplished something.  The other ninety percent show a major correlation between attendance and their failing grade.  These are the students that miss a day or two a week, usually never make up quizzes or tests, and are most often shocked to find an ugly mark next to their grade.  These are the students that are now in major panic mode as the quarter starts.

Numerous students have had small scale melt downs this week after class, coming to a sudden realization that they might not graduate high school if they continue their current course.  The frustration they express often has to do their desire to join in to off-campus Senior activities that their peers engage in while I’m teaching class, and their frustration of being behind in knowing the material.  The textbook does a lousy job at explaining Economics to a low level student, so being in class is essential.  Miss two days a week and you are flat lost.  After a venting session, I make two things very clear to the student:

1.  If they continue on the current course, they will fail my class and not graduate high school.

2.  If they show up every day, without fail, then we can fix this problem and get them back on course.

A vast majority of the students will stick it out and be fine.  A small group will need regular reinforcement and ass-chewings to remind them that the year is not over.  A smaller amount will, to put it simply, choose unwisely.  Is there something that we could do for this group that decides to bow out in the last two minutes of the game?   Well, I can keep counselors and parents as informed as I can, but we are not longer dealing with little kids here.  We are dealing with young adults who need to realize that choices have consequences, and my energies need to be focused on those that show up.  As much as I hope all these kids make it, they need to want it more. 

Unlike gifted kids, who will try and make every excuse in the world for their behavior, lower level kids will come out and often admit that they simply don’t see the value of their attendance.  This actually makes them easier convince.  A twelve year journey needs a good ending, and students that are loaded with the relevant information are more likely to see that the cost of hanging in there is nothing compared to the benefit.  For some, not graduating might cost them a spot at the local junior college, their ability to get into the military, and maybe more importantly, that very valued “First to Graduate in My Family” title.  For most, self-motivation starts to kick in after the frustration. 

Teachers need to maintain consistency and support during these times.  Students that start to show up, regardless of the reason, want to finish the journey.  Give them the extra help they need.  Realize that their lack of knowledge due to prior attendance habits will frustrate them at first.  Let them be frustrated while keeping your body near the door and tell them that there is plenty of time to fix this.  Most will not walk out on you.  The sliver that do make the choice.  Be a little sad, hope they come back, and then continue to focus on the students that are there.  They deserve your energy.           

blog comments powered by Disqus