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2009-06-03 00:04:01


I missed class this week because of an injury - I threw my back out. I didn't really think about much school related this week because, well, my health is much more important than school. As I lay in awkward repose - hoping the pain would go away and I could get back to my life, guess what happened. I get an e-mail from an instructor, effectively demanding documentation of the incident, or they will have no option but to think poorly of me. To make matters worse, they contacted my program coordinator and copied all of my other instructors on the e-mail. I felt attacked.

So this got me thinking...

What is it about absences that riles teachers up so much? I understand that group dynamics are thrown off by missing students (particularly stars like myself) but enough to justify such a visceral response? What is the fear? Without documentation, I suppose, the teacher will always suspect that, rather than being medically incapable of attending class, the student is simply skipping? Playing Hooky? OH DEAR GOD NO!

Just as I discovered in an excellent course taught by Dr. Sean Zwagerman (SFU) on the topic of plagiarism - plagiarism is not a problem, it is a symptom of a problem in the administration of University - so too is absenteeism. Absent students are not so much a problem, as a symptom that there is a problem with a classroom. In a healthy classroom, students will gladly arrive, because they look forward to lessons. If a teacher is confident that a classroom environment has been well constructed, then a student absence can only mean a serious illness or unavoidable conflicting circumstance.

My explanation for a teacher response such as the one I was treated to recently is that this teacher was simply not confident in the strength of their classroom environment. As a soon-to-be teacher, I believe that responding to absenteeism needs to take one of two forms.

First, if a classroom is a positive environment in which most learners thrive, then occasional absences can be dealt with with compassion, and concern that a student is missing out on an opportunity. Second, if the classroom environment is positive, then habitual absences need to be met, again, with compassion; in this case, however, the problem must be approached with tack and care, as the most likely explanation is that the student has some aversion to school, caused either by a past experience (or ongoing situation) or a specific dislike of some element of that classroom environment (be it other students or the teacher).

In this latter case, sensitivity is of the utmost importance! Just as being bullied on a sports team or humiliated on the glee club can turn a learner off of sports or singing, so too can an overreaction from a teacher turn a student off of classroom learning.

Surely this only applies to young learners, Jackson. Surely no adult would ever be turned off of a classroom because of a teacher's reaction to a situation? Right? Well, I am an adult (legally, anyway) and I have to say that I would rather not return to that classroom. I had no problem attending - medical emergencies aside (ie - I was in an emergency room) - this class before I was interrogated by my teacher. The one class I have attended so far was pleasant and informative. Now I wonder whether I will be comfortable in this classroom.

My quandary is - how is making an environment uncomfortable for a student worth whatever assurance it provides the teacher?



2009-06-17 17:03:54

Hey Scott,

I hope you are doing alright now. First of all, my apology for overlooking you absence on Jun 4. I am usually too focus on the nice widescreen LCD monitor during our dflit class. The technology is avoiding me from caring for my fellow classmate!

I am surprised to hear your instructors' responses to your injury. I would expect them to request for documentations for extended absence only. I think they had overreacted to the situation. Like you say, they should have more compassion towards your situation and offer more helps for you before asking for the documentation. I agree with you, we should avoid repeat this mistake with our future students.




2009-06-22 20:16:27


I can't comment on other instructors, but as you said, the dynamics do change based on who is in the room. That being said, the dynamics also change based on where chairs are placed.

I agree that students should want to attend, be interested and be engaged. The complexity comes with assessment of in class activities while a person is away. The traditional OMIT means that students aren't punished for being absent, but they can be punished (with low marks for attending).

My last thought revolves around whether we allow students to fail. If a student can pass a course and never show up, it should have been a distance education course in the first place. If a student cannot miss a class for any reason, then they should be video recorded and immediately made available. While I choose not to punish for absenteeism, marks can end up being lost while students are away because of what happens in the classs (such as a clarifying discussion on an assignment.)




2009-06-22 22:19:30

I agree that:

"If a student can pass a course and never show up, it should have been a distance education course in the first place"

however, what if there is a course that must be taught in person because of its complexity and one, or a few students are capable of making it without attending because of their brilliance. Just as learning challenged students need more time in a classroom, some need less.

To redirect - about distance education - I think distance ed is poorly and shamefully manged at the universities where I have experienced it (SFU, CapU). I doubt any course can be taught by distance unless the teacher is specifically trained in Digital Literacy. In fact ...

This got me thinking...

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