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Classroom Teachers Can Do To Increase Attendance
Michelle Miller, LSCSW
Poor attendance by students is a difficult problem to tackle. However, it
is increasingly important to deal with it due to the simple fact that if
students aren't in school, they are not learning what is being taught. It
is also problematic in the sense that chronic poor attenders often drag
down attendance and performance data for schools. In an era of increasing
accountability, this is exactly the opposite of what most districts need.
In my experience, attendance is often a symptom of some other problem within
the family. It is not our job to fix the problem. It is our job to help
families stretch and make changes so that attendance improves.
Here are some basic things teachers can do to tackle attendance.
- The starting point is to be familiar with state attendance guidelines.
How many days must be missed before the child is legally truant? Are
these days consecutive or cumulative?
- The second item one needs to be aware of is the school district's
policies on attendance. Does the principal of the school define excused
versus unexcused? Can doctor's notes be required? Is there a school
Social Worker or other support staff to refer to? What resources does
the city or county have for truancy?
- Look through the student's cumulative folder. This is an important
piece that is often missed. What is the attendance history? Is there
a history of attendance concerns or have they just begun? If they've
just begun, visit with the parent about the fact that this is new. If
it is a new concern, there may be family problems or the child may be
skipping school without the parents knowledge. (Kids can be very sneaky!)
I have noticed that in Elementary Schools, attendance is less of a problem
in classes where the teacher begins the year demanding good attendance.
Make it clear that it is a priority. These teachers will typically contact
the parents at the first sign of poor attendance through conferences,
phone calls, or a letter. I suggest sending a letter through the U.S.
mail versus sending it home with a student in this type of situation.
Bottom line, these teachers set up an expectation of good attendance with
parents from day 1. I spoke with a teacher yesterday who took homework
to a missing student on her way home due to concern about attendance.
Yes, she shared missing work, but she also found out the cause of the
attendance and gave a good message to the family that she was not going
to ignore poor attendance. I would suggest that contacting the parent
at the first sign of trouble is a great starting point for teachers for
Teachers could save time by having a form letter expressing concern about
attendance. It's convenient to have this letter on the computer. A copy
of this letter in the cumulative file is also great documentation of things
you have tried. This is an example:
To the Parents of _____________ :
I am concerned that ______ has missed _____ days of school. Please call
me at __________ or come by the school to let me know what has caused
the missed days.
Let ______ know that we miss him/her and we look forward to __________'s
returning to school.
I look forward to hearing from you soon.
There are many things that one can do to strengthen this letter if needed.
Lines such as "it is impossible to ensure educational success for
a child when he or she is not in attendance consistently" or "if
poor attendance continues, I will need to turn this case over to_____________"
may be included. (I don't see this as a threat; it
is simply letting the parents know what you will do in case of no improvement.)
In cases where parents can't get their kids to school due to no working
vehicle and/or cold weather, teachers may ask how they get to the grocery
store or church? Would that person be willing to help? What neighbors
are around? Could they pay a small amount to that neighbor for taking
and picking up until the car gets fixed and/or weather warms up? If parents
don't know this neighbor, they could ride with the
neighbor and kids to and from school. Of course, the most obvious solution
in this scenario is, are there any other kids who come to this school
in the family's vicinity? Could they ride with them? I urge parents to
have a back-up plan for cold weather and cars not starting.
These are just some ideas for handling attendance at a classroom level.
Yes, they take time, but if a teacher can get expectations established
about attendance early on, there will be much less trouble down the road.
Make sure to document any calls, conferences, or letters regarding attendance.
Copies of letters should be put in the cumulative folder if district policy
allows. Remember, if it's not documented, it didn't
happen. Let Teachnet know if you'd like more information on attendance
or an article on teaming for attendance through teachers, school social
workers, and school nurses. We've done some effective teaming here in
Wichita. Good luck! Wishing you "many happy attenders."
Michelle Miller, LSCSW
School Social Worker
Wichita Public Schools