Unlike some other colleges at which I teach, Queens College does not penalize students for failing to attend classes. Students seem to be unaware of this policy. I always begin classes by taking attendance, but little do they know, I use roll call as a mnemonic aid; my classes meet once a week, and with 60 + students, I sometimes don’t know everyone’s name until the semester is almost over. Yet, if they wander in late, they will always remind me to count them present….. as if it counted towards their grade. They also email me when they don’t show up, and I have lost track of all the emergencies.
To boost student attendance, I count in-class writing assignments as 20% of the grade. Still, there are always those students who have to take their parents to the emergency room when my class is scheduled or who simply seem to drop off the planet, only to reassert their presence with urgency around the time final grades are due. I didn’t think I took it personally. But when I prepared for a new class I’m teaching on modernism and found myself lecturing five students, I felt as if I’d been kicked in the stomach (well, I’m being melodramatic). Showing up doesn’t necessarily mean they care about your course, but not showing up consistently does give a clear message. It’s still only the beginning of the semester, so I’m still hopeful.
My choice of book, for our first intense classroom discussion, might have scared some away (To the Lighthouse, despite the title, is no beach read). But that’s exactly why they need to show up. They get something from the in-class experience that they could not get from an online course, and it has to do with the transaction between students and professors, the kinds of questions that arise, the stray insights that spark new readings of old texts(intuiting this, they do not register for hybrid courses in droves). While not showing up may be a sign of not caring, they will never care if they don’t show…and will not get anything meaningful out of the class, even if they turn in adequate assignments. So should attendance be mandatory? It seems like a no- brainer.