How I Held Absent Students Accountable For Their Own Work
Updated: May 22, 2019
How to not lose your mind when chronic absences are a daily issue.
When I taught high school, I was teaching at a school where on any given day 20-25% of the total student body was absent either a part of or the whole day. The absences were excused (appointments or sick with a doctor's note) and unexcused (cut class or just didn't show up). Rare were the days with every single student in class.
My first year teaching, I thought I was going to go nuts. I made a set stack of handouts for my classes with five extra copies. But throughout the day, students who needed an extra copy because it was lost and the students who were absent all came in for their handout. I always ran out of copies and needed to run to the copy room to make more. Argh!
In addition to this, students who were absent, sometimes didn't take responsibility for coming in to collect their missing work. It became my responsibility to track and chase them down!
My second year of teaching I knew there had to be a better way. That's when I came up with my absent box.
My Absent Box
My absent box was an pretty, yellow, re-purposed box that I used. It initially was a box from Costco that held ready made greeting cards. It had a magnetic top that snapped shut and was long enough to hold manila folders inside.
I taught tenth and twelfth grade in my second year, so I included two manila folders inside: one for tenth grade and one for twelfth grade. Because I taught Language Arts, I began each class with a writing prompt for the first five minutes of class. In that five minutes, I took attendance. But I added on to my routine my second year. After I took attendance and inputted it into my computer, I wrote the names of the missing students on the handouts for the day and put it in my absent box in the corresponding grade's folder. Quick and easy!
What I thought was a process that was making my life easier was actually teaching students to be responsible too. In the beginning, it took a bit for the new process to become habit. Students came in the day after they were gone and asked, "Did I miss anything?"
My response was always, "Check the box."
Once students understood that their handouts were in the box they stopped asking me and just checked inside the box. Many times they immediately checked inside at the beginning of class. If there was nothing with their name, they just put the folder back inside the box and put the box back. If there was something inside with their name, they checked into my after school help to make sure they understood.
I still need to remind a few students to check the box or to come in after school. However, I was not losing my mind trying to keep track of papers and kids. If there were papers still inside the folder with student's names at the end of the quarter and they didn't come into my after school help, I noted that down in the comment sections of their report cards.
My absence box ended up being two fold in life lesson teachings. I released the responsibility back to students to be accountable for their work when they were absent. I required them to come into my class ready to be accountable. And many of them rose up to the challenge and learned responsible behavior along the way. As teachers, we sometimes "hand hold" a little too much or a little too long. But the kids can do it if we let them try :)
We all need a little help in becoming HI Achievers!