Sunday, March 06, 2011

Attendance Matters: Stealing Opportunity

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Senior year for many is the home stretch.  It is a time for students to put it on cruise control and let that disease called “Senioritis” kick in and totally overwhelm what little is left of their high school career.  Senioritis hits all but a very few who persist through the mind screw that this year should be easier, and they usually are rewarded with scholarships, good college admission, and a nice run near the end of the year of realizing that they dominated everything, and they are prepared for the next challenge.  This look at attendance has to do with those that are, or think they are, the very best.  These are students that will show up most days of the year, but miss weeks for a variety of reasons that parents see as legitimate, that you see as legitimate, but in the end, test the ideas of who is really the best for our colleges.

Absences from high achieving students are often due to situations that you don’t often see with the typical high school student.  Students with good grades want good colleges, and this means college visits that often last from two days to a full week.  Tack onto the mix the performances from drama and music, tournaments and meets from athletes, and recruiting and field trips from the variety of clubs and you have a substantial amount of time that is missed in class.  Then comes the money.  Let’s be honest here; those with good grades often have a good source of income.  This means that absences appear in the form of “opportunities”.  A family trip to the Bahamas that “happens once in a lifetime”, only it seems to happen a dozen times every year. Teachers in our school take advanced students to Europe or Central America on educational expeditions.  Or some students take time out for religious or charity work, often in New Orleans or Mexico.  On top of all that is the Senioritis that kicks in during Spring.  It creates havoc for teachers.

Most of these absences could be considered “legitimate” for the purpose of education, yet cause problems within a classroom.  Make-up work in my AP classes is primarily assessment, which is often forgotten by students or the information is crammed in the day before the student goes to class.  This results in the, as expected, loud thud of a students grade falling back to reality.  That brings in parents, which we’ll talk about in a second.  Another AP issue is cheating.  Believe it or not, studies show (including my own) that high achieving students are more apt to attempt to cheat on tests and quizzes.  This means that teachers need to create make-up tests that are altered, and again feel the anger of a student that feels cheated by taking a “different test”.  Finally is the introduction of parents that feel like their child is being slighted.  “My kids have this awesome opportunity.  Who are you to take that way from them”?  I’ve heard that comment many times.

My response is that I’m not taking anything away from them.  Students have a responsibility to themselves to get the best education they can, whether that means helping the poor, going to Europe, or cruising in Hawaii.  When a student enrolls in a class, especially an Advanced Placement class, they are choosing to make that academic knowledge a priority.  Yet for some reason we as a society have lost the value of a teacher in a classroom (regardless of what pundits say).  The best students can miss a week of school and manage the make-up and the grades.  Hell, most upper echelon students can probably self-teach many classes.  The teachers that stay consistent and supportive remind the students that their education is often loaded with choices.  When I mean supportive, I mean that students have access to the knowledge available.  Whether they choose to use it is up to them.  If a student feels like they can’t handle the school work load, maybe they need to make a different choice. 

Dealing with the upper echelon of parents in regards to attendance can be an tedious issue.  My recommendation is that teachers focus on making resources available, then being consistent with standards and rules because those are the things that you can control.  Remember, you must believe that the best education possible happens within the walls of your classroom.    

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