Living with your own absence policy

Last week, Brian noted on Twitter that the first students were about to fail the course as a consequence of his attendance policy.

I’m in a similar position, and so thought that a post on attendance/absence policies might be in order.

Here’s my policy:

You can miss three classes without penalty. After three, I reserve the right to lower your grade at my discretion; after nine absences you risk failure for the course. Note that this policy does not distinguish “excused” from “unexcused” absences–such a distinction puts me in a role I don’t want to play. SPECIAL PANDEMIC CAVEAT: H1N1 (“swine”) flu guidelines suggest remaining out of school for 24 full hours beyond the last fever. (And, of course, the school could be closed if there’s a real outbreak.) Look to the wiki for ways to keep up.

  1. The policy’s pitched at MWF classes. Classes that meet less frequently obviously have lower numbers.
  2. The most important thing about the policy is wiggle room. A policy that has automatic triggers will inevitably be too draconian for you to enforce comfortably. If you have someone who is doing A work, say in a gen ed class, but gets sick and misses a bunch of class–and yet still does A work, are you really going to lower them to a C? (Although you might consider why it is that someone who misses so much class can do so well.)
  3. The other thing that’s helpful about the policy is that it completely ignores the distinction between excused and unexcused absences. Formally, I don’t care. If I make that distinction, then it follows that I have to care whether students are lying to me about absences. I don’t like thinking about that. So you get your absences, and you can use them as you wish. Surprisingly, this also lets me enforce the policy a little more strictly than I might otherwise. Plus, it introduces the concept of the personal day: recognizing that sometimes, during a semester, a student might be better served by getting some sleep, or finishing a major project, than by coming to class. As long as it doesn’t happen too often, that’s fine.
  4. The other thing the policy does is point students to resources: If you’re absent, check the wiki. Don’t just drift away.

Of course, students don’t absorb policies until it’s too late, anyway. But setting up a policy you’re comfortable enforcing is more important than setting up one that you can’t live up to.

How do you approach absenteeism in your classes?

[Image by flickr user Max Klingensmith / CC licensed]

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