Regarding Children

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E. F.:
I know I’m going to get killed for asking this question, but how phallo-logo-euro-centric is it for an instructor to be unwilling to factor in children in terms of “excused” absences for students?

For example, my community college is in a mid-South state where ½ an inch of snow within a 100-mile radius forces every elementary school in the region to close. Since many single mothers need to have their kids in school to attend my morning and afternoon classes, snow days at elementary schools mean these single mothers can’t attend class. Is this an “excused” absence?

In addition, the flu is going around and single mothers are forced to stay home with their kids. I know they aren’t exactly having a fun-filled vacation tending with their sick kids' discharges.

I’m not trying to be insensitive, but the combination of snow and flu is creating an interesting divide in a couple of my classes. Some students are asking why parents (again, many of them single mothers) should get preferential treatment because they chose to have children before pursuing a degree.

Should there be a “level playing field” or should I have, in effect, a two-tiered attendance/late paper policy: one for parents and one for non-parents? Would this be fair for students who don’t have children? How much should I care about the plight of single mothers and other parents?

I'm very interested in how other instructors handle these questions. As with previous postings about attendance, there is probably no perfect answer to this question, but it does present an interesting dilemma in terms of fairness, equity, and male-centeredness in the classroom.

Also, my wife and I are expecting our first child in 5 months, so I am suddenly a little more motivated regarding this issue than I was a semester ago.

Does your school have on-campus day care available to students? If not, that's one thing you and your wife could be working on right now.



I think the approach to a situation like this depends on the mission of the institution and the population which it intends to serve.

I'd expect your CC sees its role as providing education for students who would have a difficult time in another venue. Thus some measure of allowance for students with children makes sense.  By the same token, I teach working adults in an evening MBA program, and some will miss a class or two because of business travel. But that is the nature of the population the program serves.

BTW, I've found that course management software (Blackboard, WebCT, etc.) works quite well for dealing with absent students by putting assignments and (sometimes) homework answers online.

E. F.--
I think we teach in similar type of institutions, and this is something that I've dealt with, also.  I wouldn't have a separate attendance policy, since I think that gives the non-parent students a legitimate grievance.  Also, there are plenty of students who may be dealing with other non-childcare issues who aren't getting a similar "break" if you have two policies.  For example, students (particularly non-trad. students at a CC) could very possibly be dealing with elder care.  In my classes, students get 6 absences (3 weeks' worth).  And I always try to remind them that, inevitably, the flu will make an appearance later in the semeter, so they might not want to squander their absences early in the semester when it's snowing and they just don't want to get out of bed to shovel out the car. Yes, we are making education accessible to a population who wouldn't otherwise be able to attend--but in the long run, I don't think we're doing the students (particularly the women) any favors by reinforcing the stereotype that women just have too many childcare issues to be effective in the workforce.  And while for many of our students, children weren't so much "a choice" as "a surprise," I kind of feel like that's what life is--stuff happens, and you deal with it the best you can with what you've been given.  That doesn't mean you shouldn't be given an opportunity--and encouraged in that opportunity--but it also doesn't mean preferential treatment.

For me, an attendance policy is similar to how it works in any job.  I get so many sick days and so many personal days per year.  Another instructor in my department has a child who has been quite sick lately, so she's taking her personal days to be with her child.  That's fine--that's what sick and personal days are meant for.  I don't have children, so I don't end up having to use my personal days for childcare.  That's just life.  I also don't get stick drawings to hand on the fridge.  If I find that I absolutely must have refridgerator art, I'll arrange for a just the same way that, if I had children, I'd have some kind of arrangement with a pool of other parents to swap-off childcare on those days that daycare won't take a sick child and I have an exam to take.  And the fact that I don't have kids doesn't mean that I'm not possibly responsible for elder care (as I was at one time).

With work family leave policies (if I understand them correctly), after your days are used up, you're still allowed to take leave--you just don't paid.  For the student, it seems to me that they "paid" part is the grade.  Bad analogy, I know, and I don't mean to get into a big thing about the "commercialization of education."  But all of life is about dealing with what you've got.  I'm in a two-career marriage; my husband is at a school in one town, I'm at a school 45 minutes away.  We're vegetarians, and the large university town where my husband works is _far_ more veggie-friendly than the small town where I work.  So I'm the one to commute.  These things are all my choice--I choose to be married, to be vegetarian, to live about an hour away from where I work.  That means that I have to plan in my commute time every day, that it sucks more for me to have to teach an 8am class than it does for someone who lives 10 minutes away, and that when we are in the middle of our horrible midwestern winters, that I better allow extra driving time when the weather is bad.  That's just the way it is.  I don't insist that committee meetings never start before 11am (although that would be nice), and when the roads are too bad to drive in, I take a personal day--and I hoard these personal days for exactly these situations, since I know that every few years, we'll have the icestorm weather from hell and I won't be able to get into work.  I don't expect my colleague with the sick child to get special treatment, and she doesn't expect her commuting colleague to get special treatment.

I did recently rework things a little bit for a student whose son had to have surgery up in Chicago.  But you know, this was a situation that wasn't foreseeable, and was pretty serious.  I kind of feel like, if you have kids, you _know_ they're going to get the flu.  I mean, I know _I'm_ going to get the flu if it's going around--it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that their kid gets sick in the winter.  And as for your surprise snow?  (As I laugh the laughter of a bitter midwestern winter)--if the school doesn't close, then it's not an excused absence.  If you're expected to be there, they're expected to be there.  Of course, there are always days when it's too slick for me to get into work safely--I would never risk my life for a class, and I would never expect my students to.  That's why, as a commuter, I save my personal days for bad weather, and why the students are given a certain amount of absences to use as they wish.

And if a student is having such a hard time juggling sick children, work, and class, that 6 absences doesn't cover it?  Well, one way that CCs try to make education accessible is by having Student Services counselors who can try to help in just such a situation.  They often know of services and programs that the student might be eligible for, so send them there.

Anyway, those are just my mid-winter, suffering from a month-long mono-like flu thoughts.

Congratulations on the upcoming little E. F.let--


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