Monday, October 11, 2010

The Absentee

This post is brought to you by the fact that out of the nearly 100 students I have total, 15 were missing today.

Truancy is one of the major problems plaguing students today. Truancy is a symptom, yet we continually attempt to treat it. Truancy can be a symptom of a lot of things.

Obviously, some students are just plain old sick. Despite being a high school, we actually have Pink Eye making the rounds. We also have our fair share of Flu (Swine or otherwise), Strep Throat and good old, common colds. The worst is the stomach bugs. I've been almost thrown up on more than once because those things hit fast!

Despite illness, my first thought upon seeing the little absent sign by my students' names are other reasons for missing school.

The Reluctant Learner
This student doesn't want to do any work. I usually call them "No" Students. Do your work. "No." Do you feel bad? "No." Do you need paper? "No." What about a pencil? Pen? "No." Do you need me to explain the directions? "No." Do you even want to be here? "NO."

There are different reasons for being a Reluctant Learner. The most common are the student is too advanced and finds the work "beneath" them and the work is too advanced and the student does not want to be revealed as "dumb". Whatever the reason, the Reluctant Learner jumps at chances to miss time in class. This has less to do with peers and more to do the work.

The Victim
New stories lately have been a buzz with bully victims. Some are stories of former students sharing their dark pasts, others are stories of lives cut short. Whatever the outcome, bullying is a massive reason many students stay home. Are teachers to blame for this? Sometimes? Sometimes they are. Some of us do everything we can to stop bullying. However, fourteen year olds with cellphones and MySpace/Facebook pages are a recipe for disaster.

There can't be a teacher every step of the hallway. The schools are too big, the teachers are too few and the bullies are too clever. We stop what we can and work with the students who come to us. Still, would you willingly go into an environment where you were tormented daily?

The Excuse Parent
I struggled with what to name this one. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it is so frustrating. I have a student who has missed 50% of the school days this year, and this is the ninth week of school. His excuse notes stopped because his doctor won't write them anymore. It appears his mother just wants him to stay home. A prime example happened two weeks ago. He left school early (from my class) on Tuesday. On Wednesday, I was to have an IEP meeting with his mother. I mentioned his large number of absences and that he left early the previous day. She told me he had to leave early on Tuesday because he was hurt playing basketball the night before and his knee was swollen to the size of a grapefruit.

Now, whether he was injured or not, I don't know. I know he was in shorts and his knees matched, and neither was the size of a grapefruit. I know he happily walked out of the room with nary a limp or stumble. I know he was in class again on Wednesday as if nothing had happened. This is just one of the myriad of problems that seem to plague this student, including a broken hand that was healed within two days. I don't really know what is going on with students like these, but he's not my first.

The Mysterious Name on the Roster
You never see this kid. They don't have a profile picture because they were never here to take one. They showed up on the first day of school to secure their spot, but that was a hectic day and you just can't recall their face. You've seen them so little that you literally forget to mark them absent. When they walk in your room, they say "What class is this again?" If you're talking to another teacher down the hall, he walks past and says "Oh no! Did you change rooms again?" Again? I didn't change rooms in the first place! And no, I'm just asking this other teacher a question.

Their friends tell you "Oh yeah, I remember him. His grandpa drops him off every day, but he just turns around and walks home." Swell. He'll somehow, as if called by some Truant Kid Signal in the sky, show up anytime you're going to have an administrative observation.

The Countdown Kid
The legal age to drop out in Kentucky is 16. There are students who literally count down until their sixteenth birthday, not to get their permit or because they enjoy cake, but because they can't wait to drop out. Whether their issue is caused by one of the other categories, on the day they turn sixteen, you'll never see them again.

There are several other reasons for truancy, but these kids are the ones who pop up with alarming frequency. I say alarming, because there are issues that are embedded deep in the psychology of these students. Before attempting to "fix" truancy with court dates and truancy officers, maybe we should focus on the reasons why these students don't want to come to school in the first place.

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