For many schools, increased absenteeism has been a by-product of remote learning, and some teachers have internalized feelings of guilt because of it. These self-assessments are unfair because the reasons for increased absenteeism during the pandemic are complex.
Despite the challenges created by Covid-19, many teachers worldwide are reaching absent students and getting them to sign on to class. They are finding ways to get previously absent students to feel connected, cared for, and loved.
School psychologist Jeremy Pearson, who has a PhD in psychology, says barriers that contributed to absenteeism before the pandemic have been replaced with new ones.
“First-order barriers, such as not having an alarm clock or missing the school bus, have been replaced with having poor internet connectivity or confusion about how to access online classes,” said Pearson. “For students who had difficulty getting to school before the pandemic, hiccups in the online access road make it even more difficult.”
More than ever, teachers must understand school attendance policies so their students can be counted as participating in distance learning. Counting students as present by seeing them at their desks or hearing them verbally affirm their attendance doesn’t always neatly fit with distance learning.
“If a student logs in to my distance learning classroom, they are automatically marked present,” said Rosie Gillispie, a middle school teacher in Mississippi. “Students who don’t log in can still be marked ‘present’ if they complete their daily assignment by 11:59 p.m. on the day an assignment is due.”
Erin Alexander-Flores, a second-grade teacher in Virginia, gives her students two weeks to complete an assignment in order to be marked as present and participating. “I have a virtual group and a hybrid group,” said Alexander-Flores. “Attendance is [recorded] by logging in to class or completing work from that day’s material. They have 10 days to get it done before I lose access to amend the attendance."
Teachers must stay knowledgeable of various ways students receive credit for participating in distance learning. This knowledge will help teachers keep reclaimed students engaged and facilitate their academic success.
But what about students who are not engaging with school at all?
Call, call, and call again to reach students absent from real-time distance learning class sessions. Students who demonstrate progress on asynchronous assignments are often considered present and participating in class in a distance learning environment, even if they don’t log in for real-time distance learning class sessions. Still, call these students when they are repeatedly absent to ensure that they’re doing OK.
Ayanna Williams uses ClassDojo to contact families whose third- or fourth-grade children are absent or become disengaged in class.
“I send messages to parents, and I’ll use limited amounts of English,” said Williams, who teaches in Abu Dhabi. “When it’s translated, it translates correctly. If it is something really serious, I contact the school social worker, and they contact parents.”
Gillispie echoed this sentiment. “Between the emails and phone calls, I’ve probably made between 60 and 75 points of contacts with each of my students,” she said. “Students need to be learning. They need to be present.”
If you call and reach voicemail, leave a caring message. Overt acts of care encourage absent students to stay engaged after they report to a real-time online class.