Excused Absences Galore

..School’s well under way here in South America (I’ll leave out the name of my school) and in the few months I’ve been here we’ve had four activity days that kept kids out of class. Worse yet, kids regularly come and go with admin passes to participate in this event, that rehearsal, an important soccer practice, and even a hamster race (yes, you read correctly…science, I’m told). The list of reasons for kids to miss class just keeps on going. It’s clear I’m working at an entertainment center for the children of a privileged class, where education takes a back seat to fun.

..The latest incident which brings me to write to ISR is in regards to canceling my unit math exam due to an unplanned soccer match. Here’s what happened: A rival team challenged our school to a Friday afternoon soccer match at the last minute. The word went out Thursday afternoon over the intranet. I had been preparing my class for a big exam which I then had to postpone until Monday. When Monday rolled around it seemed unfair to have them walk into class “cold” and take the exam. So, we spent that class session reviewing and took the exam on Tuesday. This put us two days behind the scheduled curriculum.

..The teacher in the room next to mine told me last year they her called into the Counselor’s office to meet with the parent of a student who was failing her class. She knew the boy was failing because he had missed too many days of class, even though they were excused absences. It really jolted this teacher when she was accused of being a bad teacher and told that she had better get busy and see that this boy did well in her class. When she pointed out that he had missed an excessive amount of classes, she was told his failure was because she’s a boring teacher. How do you deal with this? She confided in me that she ultimately gave the kid a “B” grade to protect her job, but later the parent complained that her son would have earned an “A” if she had been a better teacher.

..My plan is to teach to the best of my ability, give these kids what they really earn and be done with it. I will either establish myself as a teaching professional and be accepted as such or will gladly leave when asked to. Has anyone experienced a school like this one?



13 thoughts on “Excused Absences Galore

  1. My concern with the post is this statement…”The teacher in the room next to mine told me last year they her called into the Counselor’s office to meet…”

    Yikes! Meeting in the counselling office for what ended being a teacher performance/evaluative issue…and in front of the parent? Double yikes! Finish the contract and get out of that school!


  2. I used to worry about these things but I figured that if the parents, the principal and head administration didn’t care then why should I? As long as they pay me on time then that’s fine by me. Eventually this dishonest passing of failing students because their parents have money will catch up with the school. When the students end up working they will also be exposed as frauds when given tasks to do and fail miserably at them. It all comes out in the wash.


  3. I’ve found this to be a common issue in virtually all international schools I’ve been in. One of the biggest issues I believe our kids face is that they are involved in too many activities anyway. I recently experienced this in my school with three different students in the same class. One involved a student who participates in a sport outside of school, competing for the national team. He missed an incredible number of days because of that. Another student also competes internationally and missed a bunch of days, then went with a school competition team on a trip. Our principal informed us that we want to support these endeavors, so we would accept documentation from parents stating where they’d been and excuse absences. Most recently, I had a student who is on two school competition teams simultaneously traveling in back to back weeks for conference events. Previously, I taught in a school where we instituted a cap on absences, excused and unexcused combined, and students had to appeal if they went over the limit. If the appeal was denied (a committee of counselors, administrators, and teachers would consider appeals and one member could veto granting the appeal) the student would not get credit for the semester.

    Frankly, I don’t like the idea that students are spreading themselves so thin doing every conceivable activity, joining every possible club, AND taking the most difficult classes, all to pad a college application. Fact is, kids are stressed and we as adults need to help them manage their time and find balance rather than letting them run headlong down a path of perpetual overload. There will be enough time for that when they’re adults.

    I’m all for a whole child education. I believe that education definitely extends beyond the walls of the classroom, and that kids need a variety of experiences to be well-rounded. But we’re letting them become so unbalanced that we are being required to make unrealistic sacrifices in the classroom to accommodate.


  4. It is a fact of life in many schools around the world that students are out of school for various activities. This is why many schools are moving towards project-based and student-centered learning. While absent kids miss the group discussions and engagement that way, any of my lessons can be done by them outside of class. This way the onus to complete work is on the students. If after doing the work, the students don’t understand the material, they can set up extra-help sessions with me.


  5. Yes I have experienced a school like that. Here is the shocker- it is an American Title 1 elementary public school (91% of students get free breakfast and lunch- poverty school!)
    Since August I have been forced to attend 5 days of mandatory teacher training. (Read here sub was ineffective and I spent days mopping up outrageous behaviors that happened with sub. Nope kids you can’t curse out the sub, leap down 2 flights of stairs knocking down classmates, touch each other sexually under the table during the group table work, cover the class in spitwads, set your $85 book on fire during math, etc. All behaviors happened when the sub was in charge. )
    Students will miss 5 days of instruction for mandatory fieldtrip that is STEM related + miss many hours for stupid school spirit assemblies + miss 10 instructional days for mandatory state testing… My students all read 3 years or more below grade level, miss school frequently with excused absences, etc. Gosh and they keep passing up from grade to grade???!!! And yes, my state teacher’s performance evaluation is 30% based on student academic growth and total growth of all students at school! Nevermind my class’ students started out so far behind, are 100% ESL and 40% special education.
    I guess my point is this: your situation is common in the USA and overseas. In 8 of the 10 countries I taught in the situation was the same. It stinks to be a teacher because EVERYTHING going wrong will always be the teacher’s fault. It is unfair and ridiculous. I also think it is a reason for high turnover in staffing. In my case, coming back from overseas due to elderly parents in USA, I had to take a job that was available. My school had 65% of teachers leave at the end of last year. They all enter in the Title 1 school (many jobs available) and then try to transfer within the same district to a more posh school where academics and behavior are better. For me, it was the only school to hire me. During interviews, principals loved my advanced degrees, multiple certification areas but mostly said they did not want to hire someone who had been away from American public schools for 20 years!
    Keep an eye out always for schools with constant openings and avoid those because hey if another talented, dedicated teacher wasn’t successful there then most likely you won’t find success either because something at that school is radically wrong and it is NOT the teacher.


    1. I agree with everything you said! Everything is always the teacher’s fault. I stopped encouraging students to go into education and now actively advocate against it.

      I returned to the States after nine years teaching overseas, ostensibly to retire. I ended up taking a job at a local high school only to experience much of what you described. Weekly football pep rallies, rampant testing, kids out of class for mandatory tutoring to maintain academic eligibility for above mentioned football, dance teacher wanting kids out of my class to practice dance, etc., etc., etc.

      Speaking of testing, the entire state tests during the same window and the system repeatedly crashes, leading to kids just giving up. At least a quarter of my remedial reading class had that experience and were scheduled for remedial reading even though in class they tested at grade level. Some tested at high school graduate level; one tested at college level. But there they were, stuck in remedial reading. Guidance wouldn’t move them because “there’s no place else to put them.” I gave them independent work and an “A.” Standards-based grading helped there.

      I used to love teaching and cried when we left my last overseas school to come home. After teaching in Florida for six weeks, I cried for different reasons. I stuck out the year, but I had the days till June counted in October.


    2. This doesn’t just happen in international schools. I work at a public school in the states and just talked to a kindergarten teacher who has had to create 9 independent studies for students who are missing more than 5 days of school. Nine! What are these 5-year-olds doing? Going to Disneyland, on a vacation, whatever. School has only been in session for 2 1/2 months and she’s done 9 of these. And because the kids will complete the work (that really doesn’t have much to do with what is going on in the class because we teach away from worksheets) these will be excused absences. This is not unusual.


  6. I went through this in Guatemala. The National Honor Society student rarely came to class. We were instructed by the Director to give her an “A.” When I asked why I was told my reputation precedes me. She knew in advance I’m a boring teacher so she skips the class. All her teachers got the same story. We later learned her drug dealer dad, powerful as hell, had threatened the Director.


  7. I taught in the prepa of Tecnologico de Monterrey-Campus Sinaloa for three years, and this kind of nonsense did NOT happen because the schedule was designed to keep activities in the afternoon; the regular school day ran from 7:00 AM to 1:30 PM and was almost NEVER interrupted. I came to appreciate this so much more when I later taught at Colegio Peterson in Mexico City and found that inane interruptions and excused absences were a daily affair there. My kudos to Tec for keeping the educative process at the center of school life, where it belongs.


  8. Some schools have too much going on in terms of events which wastes time and takes students out of class. Whilst events, sporting and cultural are part of what International schools are about, many use these events and activities as “photo ops” to advertise their school. I must confess I am tired of it, but I console myself that this is my last year teaching in such environments.Likewise those who sponsor projects in a school and have their own children in it seem to expect special treatment, such as straight “A’s” for their child’s grades. I guess it’s not what you know, but whom you know.


  9. In my experience, private schools are all like this. And small schools mean that the same kids are involved in everything, and they are absent a lot. For expat kids, school is the center of social life, whether it’s sports or drama or band or something else.

    In Central America, kids in my advanced class missed every class in November because of events.

    My first month in the Middle East, I was called by parents to a meeting and told their daughter never got less than an A. The parents went on to tell me that they donated a lot to the school and offered me a car, a computer, and a cell phone for a guaranteed A. I refused, but did tell them that I would allow their daughter to rewrite any assignment as many times as she needed to in order to get a “B” on the assignment. This was something I offered all the kids.

    And that’s how I survived. I made sure parents knew — emails, phone calls, and a syllabus sent home with the information highlighted and a parent signature required — that assignments would be rewritten (with parameters) after a conference with me (I taught English). Tests could be retaken within 48 or 72 hours, but it would be a different test and scores would be averaged. After that, I had no problems.

    You can’t fight the system. You just learn to work within it.


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