As a parent, a sick day is just as frustrating. Miss a day or two from school and your child’s grades can plummet. Whether this is from gaps in instruction, missing assignments or untaken tests, the frustration is real. It is palpable.
This past weekend, ironically while sick in bed myself, I had plenty of time to think about sick days. I came away with a few ah-ha’s.
Technology is great. With Google and email and Twitter reminders, teachers can connect with students and families at any time on any day. In fact, technology is so advanced, and some teachers so technically savvy, classroom lessons can even be videotaped and uploaded to YouTube. So when students get sick and miss a day or two of class, we all have a tendency to want to look to technology to fill in the gaps for them: watch the video lesson, download the handouts, read the posted notes, review the PowerPoint or chat with a classmate. This way they can finish the missed work before they even return. Sounds ideal.
But is it?
I haven’t been bed-ridden with a cold in years, so I admit I haven’t really thought about sick days for a while. Turns out that when you’re home sick, it’s because you feel horrible! I can’t imagine, this past weekend, having watched anything academic or completed any worksheets or talked coherently with any friend. I just wanted to sleep. And even when I returned to work on Monday -- without having missed an actual day of school -- I was ineffectual. I mustered my way through the day, but it was rough.
This left me thinking about our expectations of students.
A student determines that he is too sick to attend school. Whatever his symptoms, he decides to stay home and recuperate. One day. Two days. Whatever it takes to finally feel better and join the land of the living again. He returns to school, let’s say after having missed two days, and he is expected to be performing up-to-speed immediately. I do this all the time in the classroom. I know a student has been absent, but I continue on with the day’s lesson or give the day’s quiz or ask for a written response to something we reviewed the day before, as if no one has missed a beat. Hence the plummeting grades, frustrated students, and often-reoccurring sicknesses.
As I rolled around in bed this weekend, I promised myself to be more proactive. More understanding. More student-centered. I also realized that I need to be more mindful of the work that actually needs to be “made up” when a student misses class -- whether for sickness, family emergency, field trip or extracurricular activity.
Here is what this means for me. My instruction is driven by a target. This means I know exactly what I want students to know at the end of a unit. Popham, in” Transformative Assessment in Action,” calls this the “target curricular aim.” What I like about this approach to teaching is the freedom in being able to decide what building blocks are necessary for students to obtain mastery of that target. For example, in the course of a unit, I may assign twenty activities to get my students to the final target. But not all twenty of those are necessarily key to mastery; maybe only five of them are critical and the others are simply additional support or reinforcement.
I’ve always run my classroom this way, but haven’t always handled absences with this in mind. After this weekend, I am changing things up.
When a student misses class, I need to ask myself, “Is this a significant building block?” If it is, then I need to take the time to help that student get caught up. That may even mean the lesson on his first day back can be dismissed. But if the missed assignment from the sick day isn’t a significant building block, then maybe that’s the one I need to excuse. I never again want a student to return after an excused absence and have not only make-up work, but daily work, too. This just seems excessively harsh when trying to also get healthy at the same time.
Students who parade into my classroom this week after having missed a day or two of school will find a more compassionate, less rigid teacher who will work diligently to alleviate their re-entry stress.
I hope my own kids’ teachers will revisit their approach to sick days, as well, because we are all in the same business -- the “well”-being of our children.
Here’s to a healthy 2016.