Tips for Dealing with Student Absences


One unique challenge of the middle school and high school teacher is dealing with the numerous absences that happen in any given week or even any given day!


How many of you have seen the following scenario happen?


You start your day and students begin streaming in for first period class.  A student comes up to you and asks you what they missed the day before.  And then another student does.  And another student, who missed 3 days of class does… And you’re wracking your brain to remember what handout you gave this particular class period three days ago, and then a 4th student comes up and asks if they can make up a quiz they missed… during your prep!!


Now pretend that this happens every single class period of your 4 or 5 or 6 classes that day!


You get the gist of what I’m saying.


It is utterly unsustainable to try and remember and keep track of which handouts each student missed and who needs to make up which lab and which student needs to make up a quiz.  With over 100 students on your roster, something has to give.


So what can you do to keep yourself organized and help you be able to help your students when they come back to class?  I have a few tips that have saved my sanity when it comes to student absences:


  1.  I keep the students accountable for getting what they missed.

This is really key.  On the first day of school, I make it EXTREMELY clear that it is their job to keep themselves up to date on what is going on in class.  It’s their responsibility to get the class notes from their classmates and to come to me if they have questions.  I use notes packets with my students.  I print out diagrams and outlines for them at the beginning of each unit and students know they are missing notes when they’re absent because they can look at their neighbor’s notes packet and see that their neighbor has it filled in and they don’t!


2. I have a strict lab makeup policy.

Lab makeups are so tricky.  Labs take loads of time to set up, they take up space in the classroom, and can even be dangerous to leave out.  When students come in to makeup a lab, I have to be there, essentially running a whole new class period for them.  Because of this, I have a strict lab makeup policy.  I set up one lab per week (per course I’m teaching).  I leave the setup out (or in an easily accessible prep area) for one week after that lab class week.  Any students that miss the lab during week 5 for example, MUST attend the lab makeup date for week 6, and that lab makeup time is after school on a specific, consistent day every week (for example Thursday).  There is no other lab makeup.  If they’re absent, they have to come to that makeup time.  I keep the lab makeup time as consistent as possible, so students know that if they miss lab, they will have to make it up on a Thursday after school, on their own time.


I have had students tell me specifically that they make sure to make it to class on lab days because they don’t want to come to the makeup.  WIN.  Maybe I’m mean.  That’s ok.  I try to give students a jolt of real life once in a while and a strict lab makeup policy is part of that plan.


3.  I also have a strict quiz or test makeup policy.

Have you ever noticed how test and quiz days are often high-absence days?  It’s because students try to miss a test (sometimes even going home “sick” right before your class period!!) and they try to get another night or weekend to study (or <gasp> try to get the questions from their friends who were in class!)  Have you ever had one of those absent students come back the next day and ask to take the test “tomorrow during lunch?”, meaning they get TWO extra nights to study or “perform their investigations”.


My policy is this: the very day they return to school, if they missed a test date as their first date of absence, is the day they must take it, AT LUNCH.  That’s right.  They have to miss their lunch and they have to take it that very same day they return.  And what if their class period normally falls after lunch and they won’t even see me until after lunch?  They all know from day 1 that that doesn’t matter; they still must come to see me during lunch and take their test or quiz, before their class period even meets for me to remind them.  Yep.  Again, am I mean?  One day, these students will join a work force.  They will be in a job.  And you can bet when they get back to work after a sick day, their boss is going to expect them to do the job they missed on the day they were absent.  The boss isn’t going to give them an extra day to just veg in the office or think about the task they missed.


Now of course, if a student has missed multiple days before a test plus the test date, I work it out with that particular student when they will take a test, after coming for extra help with me.  My strict policy is for the student who misses JUST the test day.


4.  I use a simple student absence form to keep paperwork organized.

I know that some schools are going digital and all that, but I have never worked in a school where that was possible.  Many students I have taught don’t have computers at home.  So when I have a student absent, I staple a very easy-to-fill-in form to the front of any handouts for the day and stick it into my attendance book front pocket, so when the next day comes and they come into class, I can easily hand them the form and missed work.  On the form, there is a checkbox for makeup test dates, makeup lab dates, and room for me to write an additional note if need be.  You can get that form for free by filling in your email address below!



What do you do to save your sanity dealing with all the student absences?  Write it in the comments!  And make sure you sign up below to get that free student absence form!




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