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Attendance issues

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.




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1 comment to Attendance issues

  • Ray E. Skrabut

    *Make* attendance mandatory. Make it part of the syllabus. Since the syllabus is the contract between instructor and student, what you say, goes.

    For example: if a student turns in an assignment past the due date, I clearly state in the syllabus that the student will receive a half a letter grade reduction in their grade for that assignment. No one objects to this policy, since 23 out of the 25 students in a section always turn their assignments in on time.

    So perhaps next semester I will also add a penalty for students who consistently come in late (and there are quite a few) or miss classes often. I had a professor (yes, at QC) that had that sort of policy as an undergrad.

    It’s time to make our students more responsible for their own behavior.