I posted grades for spring semester 2007 yesterday. As predicted, there are a few students who question what they earned. That is to be expected. Some wanted to learn from it; others felt that someone or something else was the problem.
For the first time ever, I instituted a firm attendance policy spring semester. I checked with many more experienced colleagues and devised a system I thought was fair. I did it because in fall semester 2006, I had really bad attendance in my two PR Writing classes. I consulted the students themselves to determine the problem. I was told by my students that they will attend classes that have firm attendance policies and skip those that do not. They told me that they figure they can get by without anything resembling perfect attendance.
That got me thinking. When you go to work for a company, part of the package you get is a set amount of time off. Some organizations for which I have worked bundled the time off into a set number of days for the year, whether you took it as vacation, sick leave, or personal days. You had a set number of days that you were allowed to be away from work. That’s the deal, employers say — you work here, we pay you, and you get this much time off a year. You simply do not keep good jobs by taking excessive amounts of time off. I rarely ever took all my allotted time off, and neither did my successful colleagues.
In college, students’ job is to go to class, learn carefully selected and prepared material, do assigned work, and learn skills that hopefully will help them in their careers. To me, the instructor’s role is like that of a good work place supervisor. The instructor must ensure that the “work day” is structured effectively, that meaningful and helpful career-oriented material is covered, assigned, and assessed fairly and in a timely fashion, that there is ample time for inquiry and reflection, and finally, that students are learning appropriate material that will in fact help them in their careers. A good instructor will tailor interventions for students who have trouble with certain material and enrichment for those who perform at high levels.
But what about attendance? Part of learning (like everything else in life) is discipline. Therefore, a good instructor must instill in career-oriented students the discipline to consistently show up and participate. On the job, you will not be specially rewarded for showing up as assigned, but you darn sure will be punished for excessive absenteism. It is better to learn this lesson now.