The Oregonian recently published a lengthy report about what they deemed to be chronic absenteeism in Oregon schools. Once I started reading the five-part series, I couldn’t stop. I was pulled in and deeply intrigued by the data that was presented, how they analyzed the absenteeism rates of different school districts across the state, how they addressed the reasons why students miss so much school, and what school districts across the state are doing to tackle the issue. If you haven’t had a chance to read it, you should definitely check it out. My hyperlink button isn’t working so here’s the web address: http://www.oregonlive.com/education/index.ssf/2014/02/empty_desks_special_report_gui.html .
When I was a student, I dreamed that some day the secretary would come over the loudspeaker before noon and announce, “Dan is being picked up now. Please send him to the office.” Alas, that never happened. Ever. My mom worked tirelessly to make sure all appointments were made after the school day ended, much to my chagrin. She would make appointments months- and I mean MONTHS- in advance to preserve our day in school. If we were sick with a runny nose? We went to school. Sore throat? To school. Headache? Get over it and go to school. In fact, my fifth grade teacher asked me to bring my own box of tissues to school during my allergy heyday because I was singlehandedly draining the school’s tissue budget. Hyperbole? Yes, but I really had to bring my own tissues. Sure, I won many of those “Perfect Attendance” certificates throughout the years that could rival Cal Ripken, Jr.’s record, but I always found it weird that people always said, “No one’s perfect”, yet, it said I had perfect attendance. Confusing.
At the time it didn’t mean a whole lot to me other than “Yeah. I showed up. Whoop-dee-do.” It wasn’t until middle school where I stumbled into the nurses’s office and threw up that my dad had to leave work EARLY and come pick me up. (I certainly felt guilty that my dad had to leave work early). I spent the next two days on the couch out cold. So yes, I guess I could be counted as lucky. I never had a severe medical need that interrupted school. My parents never planned vacations during the school year. (You can’t camp in New England in the winter). All my appointments were after school when the dental hygienists were over their shift and ready to go home. My teeth and my yearning to be picked up early suffered greatly during those formidable years. However, my education remained in tact thanks to my parents’ efforts. Well, in the spirit of full disclosure, my mom was the one who made all the appointments so she guts a bulk of the credit. Those Perfect Attendance certificates didn’t mean much at the time, but as I look back at them now, they carry a lot of weight.
Now I’m a teacher and I’m tasked with inputting attendance every morning on who’s late, who’s here, and who’s absent. Inputting those codes into a web-based software certainly isn’t the highlight of my job. I wholeheartedly understand the medical needs that arise, both directly to my students and their families. I understand that many of your work schedules do not seamlessly coincide with the school calendar and that sometimes taking a vacation when school is in session is the only time that you can be together as a family. (You probably save hundreds of dollars just getting the family on a plane). I also understand that hunting may be a family tradition and that the lessons that occur in the woods cannot occur in the classroom. I understand, but as your child’s teacher, here’s what I’d like to ask:
- When your child complains of being sick, ask yourself, “Are they sick enough where they can’t go to school?” A lot of the times, it’s not a big deal going to school with a sore throat, headache, or runny nose. These are all things that can be dealt with. High fever and vomiting? Not so much.
- When you look at the calendar and plan trips for the family, please, please, please, please, please make it a priority to hold those vacations when school’s not in session. Again, I understand that there are conflicts that occur for work reasons, but missing a week or two of school is a big deal. Remember, we’re a four-day school week, which allows for longer weekends.
- There are 148 days in our school year. If your child misses more than four days per trimester, that qualifies as “chronic absenteeism.” It might not seem like that’s a big deal, but it certainly is. Four days a trimester equates one week a trimester.
- My day starts at 4:30 AM. As much as I’d love to sleep in and roll in late, that just can’t happen. Please do your absolute best to make sure that your student arrives in our classroom no later than 8 AM. The first 15 minutes of school are pivotal to get everything ready for the day, review the schedule, and make all the preparations for math.
I don’t intend for this post to serve as a lecture, a rant, or a tirade. I don’t harbor any ill feelings or any anger toward any of the families I work with. Am I sometimes jealous of the tans? Ok, just a little. I mean for this post to serve as an appeal to all the families of my classroom; I want you to consider your own child’s attendance rate, absenteeism, and tardy rate, and work towards making them even stronger. After all, the first step is showing up and while I didn’t appreciate those certificates at the time, I’m pretty proud of them now. Perfect attendance is something to strive toward. Thank you and enjoy your weekend.