Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Sitting In An Empty Classroom

Regular readers will have noted that I haven't blogged as much this year about work. There are many reasons for this, of course. Blogging about work can bring you some grief from the employer, for one. While this hasn't been an issue for me, I know it has been on occasion for others. Another reason is that I didn't want to make my blog boringly academic by talking overly much about the pedagogical aspects of my work. (Yawn.....)

The main reason lately for my silence is simply that I know if I start writing about my day in the classroom, I'll eventually get around to an issue that has been slowly eating at me for some time now - attendance (or rather, the distinct lack of it) It is the one things I am finding increasingly frustrating.

I've been in the teaching game in the North long enough by now to know that attendance problems can be an issue (particularly in the Spring when the weather warms up.) But really, even from my experience, its been getting a bit ridiculous. High school attendance here has dropped off noticeably since the start of the calendar year. My attendance began to slowly die off back in November which was a lot earlier than in past years. Now, it is downright painful. The December attendance rate for my one afternoon class was 9%. Last month, it was 0%. Yep, that's right. Not a single student attended for the entire month.

I was hoping that this was just some freakish anomaly and that the DEA, parents and/or the community in general would pick up on this and address the problem. Even if they don't have access to my monthly attendance figures, surely it's difficult not to notice our rather empty hallways here. But, with only 2 months left in the academic year, I haven't heard a peep.

I know there are many issues outside of my control. Home lives can be less than ideal, we had a killer staff turnover in the fall and high school schedule we got stuck with from last year's administration leaves a lot to be desired. But, I have to admit to a certain level of bewilderment. We have put in place a few strategies this year to improve attendance. Perhaps they came a bit late in the year but still, its better than doing nothing at all. Clearly though, if you can't bribe a student to come to school, I don't see how they will do so on their own initiative. In the past I've tried to get a student council going but this tended to flop after a couple of months.

A couple weeks back, I decided to take more direct action. I wanted to get a meeting of high school students going to hear from them. I told the few students around about the meeting, mentioned it to students I saw when I was out and about the community and had our Assistant Principal do a couple announcement about it on the town radio. I even planned a small raffle for those that attended. The result of all this was......6 students showed up. These were students that were regular attenders anyway, so I must tip my hat to them as clearly they recognize there is a problem.

It's not my intention here to dump on any one group or person. I just wish at times, that we had greater support from parents and the DEA. We have many beginning teachers on staff who I know are doing their absolute best. We have a first-year principal this year to whom I give a lot of credit. I've seen enough of the administrative side in northern schools to know of the huge challenges you can face. But I feel by not mentioning this issue I would not be acting in an honest manner, painting instead an inaccurate picture of my experiences here. At this point, I don't see how the year is salvageable in terms of improving attendance. I really need to sit down and think about this. And I have plenty of time for this this morning. Certainly I'll have lots of quiet time to ponder things over. Afterall, I am sitting once again in an empty classroom.


Kennie said...

I share your frustration Darcy. It is annoying, hard, disappointing and frustrating sitting in an empty classroom when you know you should have students in class. All I know, they better not whine or complain when final marks come around - as there isn't much I can do if they are not attending class.

c'est moi said...

Ouch! I've dealt with low attendence rates as an administrator but never 0%. Out of curiosity, are you teaching as a subject specialist or a homeroom teacher to a group of students? Are your colleagues also getting low attendence? Are we looking at drop outs or low attendence? Is the treat of expulsion being used to motivate students to come? (What good is a carrot without a stick after all?) Are there any extracurriculars aimed at the missing students specifically that can also be withheld for low attendence? I could go on but I must just go.

Rob, Tina and the boys said...

Wow, an empty classroom. I can't imagine how frusterated you are.

Way Way Up said...

C'est Moi, thanks for your comment. I am a specialist here, teaching social studies and also Northern Studies which is a hold over course from the NWT that is slowly being changed to make it more relevant to the Nunavut context. Our school is a K-12 school. Our high school end is a bit too small for homerooms although this is something that has been discussed from time to time. We started the year with 47 students with full course loads. We also have a number of students that only need the odd course here and there.

As a small high school, it has always been a challenge to offer everything that is needed in order to fill up a student's schedule for the semester. Though a student can graduate high school in 3 years, the reality is that it takes most students 4 or 5 years to do it. Many of our students are older (18,19+) and only need the odd course. These things make it difficult to have a high school full of students. I think if a students only needs say one course in a semester they unfortunately can get pretty casual about finishing it off.

We do try to offer as many students activities as we can given the staff we have. Student council has been tried in the past, but unfortunately it folded due to student apathy. We have a teacher who runs an art club in the evenings that does draw out a few students. Most students here aren't big into sports so we don't have many sports teams. Getting enough for a soccer or basketball team is challenging at times. In the past when I have coached soccer, I made it very clear that if a student was not in school, I would not take them to any tournaments. This has been supported by administration in the past and some parents but I find I did get some flak over this from community members on occassion.

I'm not sure I have any solid solutions at the moment. I'm still mulling things over in my mind. This is an issue though that the staff is very aware of. I suspect this issue will come up tomorrow at a planned meeting for the high school teachers. We'll see what happens.

c'est moi said...

oi! did my mini essay reply get through on this one?