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Dealing with beginning-of-the-semester absences

Empty Chairs

“Dear professor, I’m sorry I won’t be able to attend any class sessions during the first week of the semester. I’ve got [insert official school function] going on.”

“Doc, My flight from [insert foreign country where the student lives] has been delayed and I will not arrive to the campus until [insert late date]. Sorry. ”

“I regret to inform you that I will not be in class the first two days because of [insert family event. I've personally gotten everything from Disney vacation to funeral to family-organized mission trip].”

I don’t know about you, but I get these emails about one to two weeks before every semester,  and sometimes even after the fact.  Personally, I struggle with handling them because my perspective, both when I was a student and now as a professor, is that class time is equivalent to a job commitment. Would you email your employer two days before your start date to say that you went on vacation with your family and you won’t be back for a week? Probably not.

At the same time, you might email an employer and say, “the task group of which I’m a part has required meetings next week. Let’s meet to talk about how I can attend these mandatory meetings and still make sure I get my responsibilities to you completed in a timely manner.”

So I deal with them on a case-by-case basis. For more frivolous scenarios, like a family vacation, sometimes all it takes is a quick email to say, “the absence policy applies to the first week of classes, as it does for the entire semester. I’ve attached a copy of our syllabus so that you can be fully informed.” Those who are skipping for less official reasons often get the point and adjust their plans. And since my absence policy takes into account official reasons for absence, those people know what to do.  I usually ask those with an official excuse to make an appointment to meet with me the first week so that we can make in-person contact and ensure that they have a solid start to the semester.

Aside from the larger issue of whether or not attendance should be required in classes at all, or the higher ed culture issue in which students think of semester start dates as being soft, I’m wondering: how do you deal with beginning-of-the-semester absences, especially when students may not be aware of your absence policy because they haven’t attended a class yet? Let us know in the comments.

[Image Creative Commons licensed / Flickr user Donald Lee Pardue]

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