Saturday, June 6, 2015

9 Tardies, 8 Absences

"Leadership is about taking responsibility, not making excuses."  Mitt Romney

Class of 2018. Ironically, after just binge watching all 6 seasons of The Walking Dead we are now zombies ourselves. 


So this just happened:

Student:    What?! You count "sleeping in" as an unexcused absence? I didn't even know I was                             missing class because I was asleep.
Me:           Don't you set an alarm?
Student:    My mom usually wakes me up but she forgot. By the time she remembered I didn't have                      time to get ready.
Me:           So you are blaming your absence on your mom?
Student:    Well, it was her fault.
Me:           Should I send your unfinished work to her too?
Student:    She's really busy so I don't think she'll have time to do it.
Me:           So when are you going to learn the stuff you missed while you were gone?
Student:    ..............I dunno. I have to work after school every day this week.

Not kidding. This was a 16 year-old person who ended up with 9 tardies in my class and 8 absences and we met 21 times total. He was dead serious.

I just finished my 25th year in secondary education and things bug me so much more than they used to. ;-) I'm seeing a couple of trends that have always been there, but seem to be getting worse by the day. Keep in mind that I spent my first year of teaching in a Japanese High School trying to find out what they had that we teachers needed to have and what I found out was that the Japanese parent is a slave driver. In a good way. They seem to be single-mindedly concerned about their child's daily education. Do you see young Japanese families on vacation here in the United States? No. You see young adults that are through with their education. A Japanese parent would rather die than take their kids out of school for any reason until they are 18. A Japanese citizen also takes care of their parents until they are dead. It's good karma. You won't be wearing the cheap leaky diapers when you are 80 if your kids are independently successful. They can afford the Depends Deluxe. See the pay-off?

Seriously, I feel like there is no clear standard or line we cross when allowing a child to miss a school day. Nobody wants to take blame anymore. Nobody wants to admit they are wrong. Nobody wants to volunteer for anything anymore. Nobody wants to take on responsibility anymore. School doesn't matter. You can catch up at any time. Except this concept of catching up comes at a cost.

It used to be sickness. You could miss school if you were contagious, but for no other reason. My mom would hold up her hand and say "Show me the blood," or "if you are awake, you can go to school," or "when you lose a vital organ, bring it to me and then you can stay home from school." Then there was that ONE time my dad poured a glass of ice water on me to get me out of bed. That only happened once.

I'm not sure where they are learning it or if some kids are not expected to work hard in school, or if there isn't a parent riding them from home encouraging them to take on goals and personal standards like mine did. Perhaps its a mix of each of these problems. Whatever it is, its a terrible turn. In my class, we are pushing, driving, learning every day. If they miss, they will be behind. Yet there are a million excuses now, and "family vacation" and "I slept in," have far surpassed "sickness" as the most common reason to skip school.

When I emailed this mom about her child's absence (in the example above) she said "I have to wake my children up. We've tried to get [our child] to use an alarm clock but [child] turns it off." What happens when that kid has to wake up for work when they're 30?

At the end of April I had the following conversation with a student and this is what prompted me to start this blog:

Student:     My family is going on vacation starting on April 29th and we won't be back until after                         school is out. What will I miss?

Me:           (choking) Whaaat? You're going to miss the entire last month of school?

Student:     My mom got cheaper flights by going now instead of we have to go.

Me:           You have to go too?

Student:     Well, I don't want them to leave me home (duh...).

Me:            Aside from the state standardized tests you are going miss, the daily bell work, the daily                      assignments, test and quizzes...

Student:     Can you email me all the work and I will do it while I am there? But sometimes we won't                    have internet. Can I just pick up all that work right now?

(Update:      No homework was submitted, school got out last week.) 

I appreciate that a student is getting an opportunity to go on vacation and perhaps they will learn a lot while they are there. But they are only in school for 180 days - half the year. They can't choose from the other 180 to go on vacation?! I know there are legitimate excuses but this is just a symptom of how we (the American people) are devaluing the education system in America. This student missed an entire month where we learned to write an analytical essay and put it in the MLA format. This formatting will be required of her throughout her academic life from this point on. She missed it. She'll have to catch up somehow and that will put stress on her next teacher down the line, not to mention the added stress on me to remember to email everything to her and/or have it ready for her to take with her. Contrary to popular opinion most teachers don't have the assignments for the next week or two ready to go in advance because things change, concepts have to be taught at their pace and many forms of assessment are not written on paper nor from a book. We are not human regurgitating textbooks that can print out the next two weeks of worksheets and tests and send a kid off on vacation and expect them to focus on that work while they are gone. I can't give any kind of assessment of their learning if I am in the classroom and they are in the Bahamas. I can't answer questions, correct their work as they go or even explain a concept at their level of learning if they aren't getting it.

Yet...that student will eventually be tested on a standardized test that the state wants to be a direct reflection back on me...a direct correlation to my paycheck. A paycheck that would never afford me an entire month of vacation time outside the country.

I digress...gotta stop before I start spouting green smoke out my ears.

The real point is...on any given day, there are several students out of class. This means that I will be repeating what I have taught several times. Kids get sick and I was sick two days this year myself where I was medicated beyond recognition for migraine. I get it. But its the vacations, the babysitting, the work, the laziness, the apathy that adds stress to my work day. Every time a parent allows a student to miss class for any of those reasons, it adds an incredible amount of work to the teacher. Times that by 3 - 6 kids per class every get it. I wish everyone would think about that before they let their kid sleep in, babysit or enjoy a discounted cruise opportunity. Think about the sheer volume of work you are adding to a teacher's day, a teacher with a masters degree that already stretches their paycheck like a rubber band just to live.

Now before you react with indignant huffs and puffs about family time, special opportunities that just come up, or even surgeries or extended illnesses, etc... I get it. But this is my blog and I get to complain and plead for understanding too. I understand when there are kids that land in the hospital or have diseases and issues that require extended absence. I will bend over backwards to help those kids who have come upon unfortunate health problems. What makes me crazy is the illogical and absurd excuses kids and parents give that are not related to sickness at all.


10.            "I work full time and don't have time to help my son his work after school. So it's my                          fault really. Don't fail him because I'm a bad mom. I just can't keep up with all his work                      and mine too. We have 6 other children. It's really tough."

9.               "I won't be in class all week. My parents are going rock climbing and I need to stay home                     and babysit."

8.                (spent the entire day in her boyfriends car in the parking lot)

                    Jan: I saw you in the parking lot with your boyfriend. Why didn't you come to class?

                   "I don't have to come if I don't want to. My mom will just call it in."

7.                 "Mrs. Hunsaker: [my child] was on a life changing family vacation for my parents 50th                        anniversary. Please accept all of her late work on time because we were on a cruise and                        we didn't have access to the internet."

6.                  (missed finals week)  "My families time share is only good for the next two weeks, so                          we are going skiing in Germany and I will be gone. What do I need to do?"

5.                 "I forgot to plug in my phone and it died in the night so my alarm didn't go off.  You                             can't blame me for technological problems."

4.                 "I had to work. There was no one else they could call."

3.                  There are some classic excuses for unfinished, or non-existent work, but none so good                           as this one: "I didn't have any colored pencils." I point to a box with probably 1000                               colored pencils in 16 colors sitting up at the front of the room 15 feet away. "What's                             that?" I asked. "But I asked people to bring me some and they wouldn't." I shake my                             head to see if I had actually heard that. I lower my head and look under the desk.                                  "Those your legs?" I asked. "Well, I didn't feel like getting up," she responded.

2.                   "Can I borrow your glasses? I'm staging some pictures to put in my Sterling Scholar                             portfolio. I'm pretending that I gathered glasses for the homeless and I need as many as                       I can get. Don't worry, I'll give them back in about 10 minutes." That goes right along                           with this: "What can I do for you in the next fifteen minutes that I can put on my                                   resume?" (So much sure you can dedicate a whole fifteen minutes to                         it?)

And finally...

1.                  "I was trying to get caught up with the work I missed while I was gone."

With the advent of the internet and programs that allow teachers to post class work to online sites that students can access from anywhere - even their phones - we are attempting to take the excuses away. Still, it doesn't replace time in the presence of a teacher with specific knowledge in that content area. Please consider how much work you are adding to a teacher when you plan family vacations during unplanned time off or let your kids sleep in because its just too cruel to pour a glass of ice water on them. And college students! You think I forgot about you? I taught you too! Get your butt out of bed and go to class!

Consider the crueler lesson: if these habits are allowed to form you are stunting their growth! You might end up with a dependent human that can't function under a deadline, can't be on time to anything, has no respect for priorities or can't learn what they need to learn to drag themselves up and out of your basement to support themselves or their families.

Times are not getting easier. Life is not short. We are in a battle to prepare our kids for a time when they will govern us in our old age. Will they take on that responsibility and if they do, will they be able to seriously guide and lead the world through what are surely trickier times ahead? Only time will tell...meanwhile, and I say this to teachers and students alike: every minute we spend together in a classroom can make a difference, consequently, every minute needs to count.