07 February 2005

In Absentia

I really don't like to be out from work, although there are times (like now), where attending is unthinkable. Being gone from the classroom creates a host of problems---from trying to find a worthwhile sub to finding ways for the kids to keep moving forward without my guidance. I feel like I have this week covered. I'm still secretly, and perhaps foolishly, hoping to be back on Thursday.

Most jobs allot workers a particular "bank" of sick days. In NM, I was allotted 15 for my first year---as new teachers tend to catch every bug in the book---and 10 every year thereafter. Here in WA, I've been given 12 per year. Currently, I have enough to be gone for about 50 days. I have never been one to abuse my sick leave, although I do admit to taking the occasional "mental" health day when Life has just been too crazy.

I am always interested by colleagues and students who push the limit (and then some) with sick days. I have worked with several teachers over the years whose philosophy is something along the lines of "if the district has allotted these days off for us, use them up." And when these teachers get closer to retirement, it may mean that they take 2 or 3 days off each week throughout the school year. I find this irresponsible, but there isn't anything the district can do about it. There is no policy here (as there was in NM) for providing a written note from a physician if you are out more than 3 days in a row. I suppose I should be appreciative that the district trusts me enough to believe that when I say I need to be out more than 3 days, that I do.

We also have no policy in this district regarding the number of days students may be absent. In one class during this fall semester, I had students gone 57, 40, 36, and 17 days. Out of 89 possible school days. The "57" was primarily due to suspension---she was something of a bad hat at school, although she gave me no grief. As for the others? The "40" had a parent who liked her to stay home. And while I don't know the full story of what was happening with the family, I have to think that keeping your kid home when they aren't ill is another big case of irresponsibility.

For the most part, the school trusts parents as the district trusts teachers: if you say your kid can't come to school, then we'll assume it's because of some sort of personal emergency. Just give us a call or send a note with your kid the next day. And doesn't it seem the province of the parent to decide first what is in the best interests of the child? Is there a point where there are "too many" days? Who decides the magic number? And who enforces it?

We do have some recourse, for kids like my "40," but it is rarely pursued. What school will initiate legal action against families for keeping their kids home, even though the school should do its part to ensure the child has access to an education? None that I know of.

So, here I sit in the middle of the night, bothered because I am physically unable to do my part later today to help my kids...and yet we have a number of parents who won't be bothered if their kids take a 3-day (or more) weekend frequently throughout the year. There are so many areas of education today where we really need a stronger partnership with parents and yet we're having such trouble making connections. And it will be the schools who are blamed and penalized when students can't meet standards or fail to graduate. I'm not sure what the answer to all of this is, but for the 8 hours a day that schools are "in loco parentis," we have to do a better job of encouraging students to come and make the most of that time. I'm sorry I can't be there this week to do my part.

No comments: