Freshman #1 – The kid’s been gone for four days. Three of those are counted as skips. It’s the 22nd day of the semester and his grade is low, mid-30’s and still heading south. He has a bit of an attitude and walks into class like he’s stepping into his own kitchen.
Freshman #2 – The kid’s been gone for three days. The parent has called in for all of them. She’s been sick twice since the beginning of the semester. The make-up work from the last absences still show vacant boxes in the grade book. She looks tired and unmotivated.
Freshman #3 – The kid’s missed first period six times since the start of school. Getting to school is a struggle for her, and when she is here she is present in physical form only. When the teacher talks to her, she is pleasant. School is early and not much of a priority.
Each freshmen needs a list of missed assignments, private instruction, a scheduled after-school time to make up that missed test, and likely a phone call home to see what’s going on. And despite all that’s being done, it is very likely that the student will miss more days in the near future.
How do we respond to these students? Too often our non-verbals communicate a level of concern that is legitimate: “Come on, get to school. It’ important!” But students simply see irritation from teachers.
We are justified in our low-level irritation because this is their education but is this leaked frustration productive? When we step back and look at the big picture a better response is “You are here!” . . . without sarcasm.
If attendance and participation is the long-term goal, is a snarl and a pause going to bring that reluctant attendee back the next day? Not likely.
We don’t need to get irritated when that student breaks the atmosphere of the classroom. There will be time for that if they continue to attend. Instead it’s “Welcome back! Can I have a few minutes of your time at the end of the period? Here’s what we are working on today.”
In the same breath, I’m in no way saying that the work doesn’t need to be done; however, I think a positive first-blush on reentry will generated a lot more returned papers than venting our frustration to a student who is doing – at least at that moment – exactly what we are wanting them to do: attend.