My #oneword for 2015 is uncomfortable, and this blog post is a challenging one to write because it makes me feel very uncomfortable. I’m worried about how the comments might make me feel about my classroom practices, but I also feel like I need to hear these opinions. This is something that matters to me, and it’s something that bothers me a lot: student absences.
As many of you know, I moved schools this year. I actually moved back to teaching at a school not far from one of the first schools that I taught at in the Board, almost 14 years ago. Back then, I always had lots of students away. I taught Kindergarten, and my lowest number of absences was 30. One student was away for almost 100 days. These high numbers of absences weren’t unheard of at this school, and maybe in my first year of teaching, when I often felt like I was just trying to stay afloat, I never took these absences to heart. But I do now. And once again, my daily student absences are very high.
I know that there are many reasons that students are away.
- Sometimes it’s illness.
- Sometimes it’s a family emergency.
- Sometimes it’s for a vacation.
- Sometimes it’s a bereavement day.
- Sometimes it’s weather-related.
But sometimes it’s because the child just doesn’t want to come to school, and it’s those times that keep me up at night. It’s those times that give me a lump in my throat and make me swallow back the tears. It’s those times that make me question, what can I do differently?
My problem is that I strongly believe that students should want to come to school. They should love their time there. School should be an exciting place to think, learn, problem solve, and “do.” I really try to work with the students to create this kind of school environment. If students articulate that they’re “bored,” then I listen to them. I try to find out more about what they mean, and what would make a difference for them. And then together, we try to make this difference. I know that I’m not perfect. I make mistakes daily, and I try to learn from these mistakes. But one area that I was confident that I wasn’t making a mistake in was creating an engaging classroom where students would want to be. Listening and observing the students each day make me believe that this is true. Is it true for everyone though? What about those students that aren’t coming?
This is not about all of those times when illnesses or extenuating circumstances keep children at home. It’s about those times when students say that they “just don’t want to come.” Those times happen — way more frequently than I’d like — and it makes me sad. And I want to be able to change things, but I don’t know what to change. I’ve asked these students to try and find out more information, but I’m not getting an explanation. So now I’m blogging in an attempt to look for some help.
This post is not about placing blame. It’s not about me trying to force students to come to school or question why they’re allowed to stay home. It’s about me trying to make positive changes so that they want to come. The bottom line is: I love school. I’m thrilled to get to come and teach every day, and I always have fun in the classroom. My students make me happy. Learning makes me happy. School makes me happy. School brings me joy. How do you help students experience this same joy? How do you respond if they aren’t? I’d love to hear from everybody on this topic! If you have a suggestion, I’ll listen. I know that high levels of absences aren’t uncommon at my school, but if there’s something I can do to change this, I want to make this change. What can I do? What would you do?