Thursday, February 14, 2008

"Hey, Teacher, May I Have a Do-Over, Please?"

Well, quite frankly, I don’t think many of my students use this orphan-like phrase when they ask me to forget the past and let them begin again. We are six weeks into our semester, and just in time for Valentine’s Day of Love, some missing students have surfaced and asked me to find it in my heart to forgive them and let them begin again. One gentleman has had three consecutive weeks of absences; I’d stopped counting him when determining copies of handouts. He returned contrite and naïve, speaking vaguely of eye infections. “Can’t I just do all the work and catch up?” he asked earnestly, his eyes begging me to let bygones be bygones.

It is a teacher’s cliché to resent student versions of “Did I miss anything?” It feels like admitting that I am just a distributor and collector of papers to say, “Oh of course you can make up the past three weeks with a packet!” Perhaps if I put less of my heart into pacing and designing everything, it would seem less hurtful. To be fair to students, they didn’t invent this system of making up work. I’ve had numerous administrators direct me to “make up a packet” for my units on Shakespeare or research essay writing or other huge undertakings that use up all my teaching talents to try to get intangible concepts across to students. I resent the reductive nature of make up work more for how it reduces me and my teaching than for the work it takes to compile it. And that I fear may be vanity…

As for the work it takes to compile make up work, I must be honest and say I resent that, too. Here I’ve been at school, keeping my end of the bargain and teaching. A perpetually absent child has now returned, his return a harbinger of paperwork I must now assemble. Yet, philosophically, I believe in second chances. I believe in letting students make new choices today based upon the insights and maturity they have gained. I just have trouble believing it in practice. So, I’ve come up with a little compromise. I tell my earnest-turning-a-new-leaf students that yes, they can make up what they have missed, and yes, I will compile that for them. However, I will only allow them to make up work if they have good attendance for the next two weeks. If these students truly do return and attend and keep up with the current work as best they can, I find my desire to catch them up generates all on its own. After two weeks of attendance and effort on a student’s part, I am again smitten. Intoxicated with the potential of keeping a lost sheep in my flock, I tend to put together a much better make up packet. This compromise, I figure, keeps me from missing anything…

co-posted on Between Classes: Living a Balanced Life as a Quality Teacher

2 comments:

Jason Kane said...

I read your blog and I felt compelled to leave a comment. It is so strange how this time of year brings a sense of panic in the underachievers with no excuse but laziness. I am not talking about struggling students that try hard and show commitment; I am talking about those frequently absent students who are written up for skipping on a weekly basis, students like you discussed in your post.
Your compromise seems very appropriate and mature. I feel that resentment myself in compiling make-up work. It takes a lot of management, time, and patience to keep an on-going log of missed work for students that are perpetually missing. And after all of that work, the student may show up one day to get the “packet” only to have it and the student never return.
As I mentioned, there is a lesson of maturity and responsibility in your compromise. Students not willing to take the work and the attendance seriously can give up the hope of “tugging on our heartstrings.” The simple fact is that we are here to educate students that are here. Make-up work is therefore a privilege given to students that choose to prove their dedication long-term, not just for one whiny day. Thank you for choosing to submit your interesting story. I teach at a school where attendance is a very shaky concept and I plan to use your compromise immediately in my own classes.

Kate Kellen said...

Jason, I'm thrilled you found an idea here worth incorporating into your own teaching. I'm blogging because I believe we teachers need to be each other's best resource. Thanks so much for reading and commenting...

Kate