Make-up Work and Absences

Joel, an excellent blogger, over at So You Want to Teach? posed some interesting questions regarding absences and make-up work for students, and I thought I’d post my ideas here.

1. How do you handle make-up work for students?

I have a couple systems in place in my classroom. Besides having an online calendar with every assignment posted and ready for a download, I also keep every hand-out and any board notes in a tray in my classroom. Each class has its own hand-outs tray. I have a quick list of instructions for students to follow when they return from an absence detailing my procedures:

  • Ask a neighbor first what occurred in class the day before.
  • Retrieve any hand-outs from the appropriate tray.
  • If needed, go to my website and download any missed information or assignments.
  • Ask three before me. (I have students talk to three others about how to complete the previous day’s work. If those three cannot do so, I need to reteach the concept.)
  • Make an appointment for individual assistance if time is not available during class.

Because of my website, many students download their assignments or the day’s activities prior to leaving for trips, which is also helpful.

2. What steps do you take for students with excessive absences?

Generally, students cannot pass my English classes if not in class. However, I want everyone to attend. After three days I call or e-mail the home, though after five days school procedures must be followed and the counseling department and the administrators take over for me.

Students who are absent for long durations of time (medical reasons and the like) must keep abreast of the course’s activities online and through study buddies from class. Most often students will e-mail or call regularly to keep up with the work. Unfortunately, I can’t recreate in-class experiences, so students have an extra incentive to return as soon as possible.

I have found that my approach with students brings them back into the classroom if their absences are not medical or vacationing ones. I sit down the student and simply ask why he/she isn’t attending. Almost every time I do this, the student will return. Only the most extreme cases refuse to return, and these students are usually having major issues outside the classroom which are outside of my control. Relationships are critical.

3. What criteria do you use to determine any exceptions to this policy, if any?

In truth, I have stated policies (basically, a week to make up work) but really do not follow them because I want everyone to complete the work. Since classwork and homework only makes up 10% of a student’s grade, I don’t worry about students turning in late work. Plus, if students don’t participate in class this shows up on the tests, in the papers, and in the projects.

I do not punish students by taking away points for assignment tardiness. I believe any score entered should be a reflection of the students’ abilities and not their work ethic. The only exception to this are missing major assignments (tests, quizzes, projects, and papers), which must be completed without exception, essentially course requirements.

Classwork and homework is somewhat optional. If a student can pass major assignments without turning in the practices, I will excuse the practices because the culminating activities are really the focus and the telling assignments. Otherwise, I have the student go back and make up the missed work and redo the culminating activity.

8 thoughts on “Make-up Work and Absences

  1. Pingback: Student Absences & Make-Up Work…What Do You Do? | So You Want To Teach?

  2. Heather

    This is great insight for me. I am hoping to start my first year of teaching this fall, and this is one area that I was having problems with. thanks

  3. Rita

    It’s ironic, as I just wrote a blog entilted “It’s Time to Go Back to School – NOW.” I wrote it simply because this is the time of summer I begin to REALLY miss the students. In short, just as many teachers want to know what students they will be getting in the Fall (I don’t), most students have done their research on their upcoming teachers. Regarding such things as make-up work and absences, I address these things at the FIRST CLASS, and I’ve maintained the same policies for 22 years – and the students know it, and they know that I’m serious.
    Regarding absences, your school should have a policy on absences, and it shoud apply across the board – from English to Band. If you in any way convey to the students that Band is less important than their other classes, they will pick up on it – and not take you seriously. Though our school also has a “3-day” policy, I call after 2 days. I want to make sure that things are OK with my student, and at home. If the student knows that a teacher will have to (or choose to) call after 3 days, many will take advantage of that “third day off.” Once it gets turned over to administration (which is sometimes unavoidable), it’s necessary, if the student is well enough, for the student to keep abreast of daily classroom activities and homework. I never hesitate to tell my students to call me directly, or to email me – they get both pieces of information on the first day. Though I also suggest calling another student in the class, they will take that approach first, but can NEVER say that they “didn’t know whom to call if absent.” And I agree – nothing can replace an in-class experience, but getting that student back to school as fast as possible is goal #1.
    Regarding make-up work: Again, I make it clear on Day 1 that ALL assignments are to be completed, whether a student is in attendance or not. If they need extra time, that’s understandable, but the work is still due. If a student by-passes an assignment, he or she is told that a 2-page paper will be due, covering the missed reading. Perhaps, in a band class, a teacher could give the student an extra verse or passage to learn, which will help to re-enforce the work that the student CHOSE not to do. My goal in giving make-up work is to try to keep-up a level “playing field” in class. Once a student falls behind, that student tends to drag the class behind, and we have only so many days to implement a curriculum. My most important way to accomplish this is simple: KEEP YOURSELF AVAILABLE. Though we are all entitled to our personal time, my students know that they can call me, email me, ask me for extra time, etc…and many have taken advantage of that, to the benefit of the entire class. I have heard TOO MANY teachers say “well, if you would have been here/done your work…” All that does is humiliate a student in front of his peers, and make the class lose some respect for you. You need to show the students respect and availability if you want it returned.

    The biggest conundrum is when a student totals a huge number of absences, particularly if they are successive. If a student is truly too ill to attend school or do the required work, I believe that the best you can do is show compassion. I have visited with ill students (with administrative and parental permission) just to say “hi.” Often, the student will then ask ME what’s going on in class. That gives a teacher the opportunity to make a few comments, and then say “all that’s important is that you get better. Once you’re back, we’ll work together to catch you up.” Removing stress from a sick child – whether that child bears a physical/psychiatric or emotional illness, helps the student to see you as human, and not just someone who has the magic pass/fail button.

    As for a student who is gone for other reasons, such as extended vacation, I tend to be a bit harsher on the demands to make-up work: they’ve had the school calendar since last summer. I expect them to come back having completed every assignment their classmates have completed (by preparing the work for them in advance), in addition to an extra credit project. I teach History, so I would like them to share a photo presentation with the class on an historical site. A band teacher could ask the student to learn of musical instruments used in the area, or perhaps learn a short piece that is popular in that culture. An English teacher could ask for a short book report on “the most famous local author…” You need to be creative, understand that the parents are going to complain, and that the student will NOT be happy – at first. Let them take it up with administration. I can tell you, however, that once the student returns, and has full control of the class to talk about his trip, he will love being in the limelight.

    Sorry I’ve taken up so much of your “comment” space, but these are very important issues. I believe that if you want your students to behave consistently, then you must set the example. The one area in which I disagree with the author – and it is also dependent on the subject matter – is that a stated policy should be clear and non-negotiable. If your policy is one week to make-up an assignment, then it should be one week for every student. Each will rise to his own abilities in that time, and abilities vary greatly. I do NOT, however, believe that policy should vary greatly, as then you may find yourself accused of playing “favorites” or “just not liking” a particular student. Even though you know it’s not true, the students don’t.


  4. drpezz Post author

    Thanks for the comments, Rita. You gave me some good points to consider.

    My only real disagreement with you is about having one make-up policy for every student. I may take that out of my syllabus completely because I believe every student’s make-up work should be determined on an individual basis. Some students just need more time than others. I think defining what is just and what is fair may be important, not just for ourselves but for the students as well.

  5. Pingback: No Such Thing As Late Work? « The Doc Is In

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  8. Overwhelmed

    I love both of your ideas. I am a new HS Englsh teacher with 200 students. I put a tremendous amount of work into grading and trying to give feedback, but I find I am spending over 30 hours a week outside of school, and I am still unable to give them what they need. If I let students turn in assignments whenever, I fear that many of them would wait until the very end of the quarter, thus not getting what I want them to get and also bombarding me with work upon which I couldn’t possibly give the feedback that they need.


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