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Written by Phillip L. Harris   

A Real World Approach to Attendance in Our Classes

Attendance issues always seemed to plague teachers as a necessary administrivia evil.  Here I was trying to give my students the training they’d need to get a job in the real world and I found myself having to deal with attendance rules and passes, and notes from teachers and parents and doctors, and, and, and.  I finally started looking at attendance thinking “out of the box”.

I went with the “real world” approach.  For example:  You’re a kid.  You have a job at McDonald’s.  You, for whatever reason, don’t go to work today – could be you’re sick, could be you call in sick and go to the movies or to an amusement park.  Would you ever under any circumstances expect your paycheck to include payment for the day you were not at work?  Even the kids would say they wouldn’t expect to be paid for not going to work.
School is their job.  Their paycheck is grades.  They don’t go to their job, they don’t get paid. 
Ok.  There’s the philosophy so far.
As I thought about all this “real world” stuff, and then I thought about how bass-akwards educational rules on attendance are, I tried to find a marriage that would work between keeping the school happy yet still provide the kids with a real world approach to employment practices.
Here’s what I came up with:  simple calculator allowed me to add up the number of hours of my class existed in a grading period.  If the class was 90 minutes 5 times a week and the grading period included 45 school days that means each kid “owed” me 67.5 hours of attendance.  I bought a time clock and cards (any office supply store sells them or you could try EBay, etc.)  Each kid had a card and had to “punch the time clock” upon entry and exit from the class (this makes attendance taking very easy, by the way.)  The kids know they are responsible for 90 minutes per day.  By the way, punching the time clock is about as real world as you can get.  Many school systems require teachers to punch a time clock. 

I check the cards times with rough math (rough math means I’m an estimator not an arithmetician) and have each kid double check my estimate.  If the time is short, using a pen I write the number of minutes short it is on the top of the card place a minus sign in front of it and put a tight circle around it with a pen (so it can’t be adjusted by conniving kid) and give the card back.  Next week the kid punches in and out on the other side of the card and if that week is short, I add the first week’s shortness to the second week’s shortness to get a new total of the amount of time the kid owes me.  I keep the card and give the kid a new card to start the next week with but first I carry over the total shortness to the top of the new card with another tight circle.  By the end of the quarter, I have a total # of minutes the kid has not been present. Divide that by 60 and I have the total number of hours they are short.  Because of variables beyond kid’s control (assemblies that affect the schedule, fire drills, tornado drills, terrorist drills, bus breakdowns, traffic), I give the kids 5 hours for free.  Beyond the 5 hours, every hour they miss will result in .5 points being deducted from the final quarter grade.
If you think this is a ridiculous amount of work, it’s because you haven’t been doing it.  The kids do the time cards, I only check them once a week.  The math is so simple, I do it in my head in seconds.  Total per kid:  15 seconds.  It truly punishes kids who try to play the system and truly rewards the kids who don’t even need the reward because they’re the ones who are coming in all the time anyway.  Best of all when grades are “adjusted” for attendance issues at the end of the quarter and a parent calls, you merely say he missed 10% of the class you can’t expect that he gets an A.

One final thing.  I gave the kids a weekly grade on all the classroom work they did each week.  Attendance was a huge part of that.  If you were out of class 2 days and didn’t make up the time you missed 2 fifths (40%) of the class that means the highest score you could get for the week is a 60.  So their weekly grade and their quarter final grade are massively impacted by attendance.  What’s the flip side?  Consistently, administrators were praising my student attendance.  I hardly ever had people out of class.  Hmmmm.  Maybe there’s something to this “real-world thing” after all… 

Stay tuned next month for Part II of this article!