Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?

Teachers discuss how students missing classes influences curriculum agendas


Ayesha Khan, Editor in Chief

Between illnesses and doctors appointments, absences are inevitable. An issue, however, arises when the number of absences hinders daily learning practices. Recently, a number of teachers have experienced the implications that this attendance deficit has on their planned content and teaching styles.

“It’s especially challenging when there tends to be — not even on a daily basis but an hourly basis — an inconsistency with absences, so teachers may have one class that maybe nobody’s absent, and then the next class, we’ve got six absences,” English teacher Casey Engel said. “That can really challenge some of our plans where we want as many students to be [present] because we’re discussing [and] explaining things that are impossible to put in a neat Canvas document.”

For math teacher Kate Baker, these absences are especially impeding when group work is involved.

“It is hard when you plan an activity and you get kids into groups, and then they’re not here,” Baker said. “You’ve got these groups and [when] five people are gone, whether they’re sick or not, you have to [rearrange] because you pick your groups for a reason.”

When attendance numbers are questionable, Engel said she evaluates which plans will ensure both the health of the unit and the wellbeing of her students. 

“I know for a bunch of us at certain points last year, especially with illnesses, there’d be days where we’d have literally half or more of the class missing,” she said. “In that case, most teachers have to think, ‘OK, well, there’s no way that we can really go on collectively until more people return.’”

This pattern of repeated absences is only a small part of the grander issue at hand. 

“I do see more of a consequential ripple effect where students aren’t getting work made up or there’s a discussion that needs to happen, and it just doesn’t happen,” Engel said. “I think sometimes we have to make the executive decision [of] ‘this is where I need to be, this is where I need to move on to,’ regardless of how many people are gone.”

Test makeup is Baker’s “biggest headache” when dealing with this ripple effect of absences. 

“I had a student last year who missed our first two tests, and I tried to get her to make it up — she just never did,” Baker said. “Our third test she wasn’t ready for [either because] she was absent beforehand so she never made up those tests and didn’t pass the class, but I’m like, ‘You’ve got to get that made up, you’ve got to make it a priority,’ and if you put it off, it makes it so challenging.”

Since the pandemic, Engel has found many students do not approach school the same way they once did. Consequently, she feels it is on teachers to find new ways to make class engaging. 

“Unfortunately, for some students, school’s become more of a suggestion than a requirement — that’s something we need to work to reverse on the students’ part, but also, what can teachers do to improve our practices so that students look forward to coming to school,” Engel said. “One of the questions we’ve been trying to tend to all year is how do we get students to want to be here?”

Engel does what she can on her end to make class time valuable and appealing, but reminds students a lack of this should not be reason enough to give up on school entirely.

“Throughout life, you have to attend meetings you may not want to attend,” Engel said. “You may have to do work that you don’t want to do. Learning isn’t necessarily about being entertained, but growing our awareness of our world and our place in it, and that takes hard work. Hard work isn’t always fun, but it’s necessary.”