One of the more frequently asked questions my students hit me with on the first day of school: Professor Green, How many absences can we have?
What do you mean “how many can you have?”
Absences aren’t a given for the number of days you can plan to miss each semester. Having an excused absence is reserved for those family and health emergencies. And if it’s not excused, you probably shouldn’t be missing. But that’s not what many college students think. Their desire to know the attendance policy on the first day of class is so they can plan the number of days they can miss over the next 12 weeks of school.
I haven’t had a semester yet since when there hasn’t been at least one camping trip, cruise, or family vacation that some student didn’t knowingly plan at the start of school year; or on the backend of the fall or spring breaks; and even sometimes during finals week; trips that take the student out of class during the regular school schedule. Outings they either try to get excused or want you to change your schedule to accommodate theirs, and try to take the exams early, or turn in assignments late.
“My family planned this cruise six months ago,” I’ve heard. My response is, “the school calendar’s been posted online for over 18 months. Did no one think to look at when classes started?” Of course, not because they just assume all of their professors will be okay with it.
Then there are the tardies. Not the barley slip in before the door is closed or right after the roll is called type of tardies. But the walk in 10-15 minutes late regular routine of some students. That is mind boggling; especially when it’s not an early morning class. Since I teach mostly upperclassmen, I’ve often reminded them that they needed to start treating school just as they would a “real” job — people get fired from jobs for being habitually late, I tell them. I’m as sure that they all hear me as I am certain that I’m not the first person to tell them that.
I have several students who happen to have me for both a morning and an afternoon class on the same day. One day one showed up for the afternoon class, having missed the morning one. When I asked why they weren’t in the morning class, laughter was what I got; then a little honesty. That honesty was in the form of “I don’t even have an excuse.” That was the answer.
I was a commuting college student all four years of school, and lived about 18 miles from the campus. I had to get up early, even for a mid-morning class, because finding a parking space that wasn’t a half of mile from the building where my classes were, was challenging for anyone showing up after 9 a.m., and the school shuttle services weren’t always reliable, especially if you happen to show up seconds after the bus pulled off, and didn’t have the 15 minutes to wait for the next one. I showed up early, hung out at the library, the student union, and sometimes in my car — with no electronic devices to entertain me, and then walked across campus to get to my class on time.
I don’t see the same “do what you can to get to class on time” commitment or attitude coming from many of my current students. It’s usually the same two of three people who come in late, always with the “I couldn’t find a parking space,” excuse. Truthfully, there are plenty of parking spaces on the campus; they’re just not all located close to the building. Arriving early on campus would help to guarantee a better spot.
When I was in college, tuition wasn’t anywhere near the amount it has grown to now. Students are graduating with enormous amounts of student loan debt. And I guess that’s why it’s baffling to me to watch as some of them do what they can to not show up, not engage when they do show up, or talk or play on their devices in class, instead of listening to what’s being taught. The thought of me paying thousands of dollars per semester without trying to get my full money’s worth, is a foreign idea to me.
Last month, a friend of mine teaching at another university commented online that he was irritated that when he showed a video in clas,s that tied into what the students were learning, one student asked if material from the video was going to be on the midterm. When he said no, and explained why he was showing it, several students packed up and slipped out of class once the lights went down. Others, he said were on their smartphones and their laptops, and still others decided it was nap time. It was obvious that he was frustrated at the thought that there are students who only want to hear what they have to remember for an exam, and not actually learn about the business they plan to graduate in and try to find a job.
I knew exactly how he felt. Not only had I heard of that happening to other faculty members at my own school, but it used to happen to me. That was until I changed the syllabus to reflect that anything discussed, shown, or read in the class, and as assignments, including any guest speakers, videos, or articles, are all subject to being a part of the midterm or final exam. Because, as I explain to the students, I don’t give busy work. I have assignments that are designed to help them process and apply what they’ve been learning, and to give them a fuller understanding of the business. I no longer tell students what will and won’t be on exams, until we do a review for that exam.
But no one should have to trick students into learning; or even wanting to learn!
What’s college for anyway?
I paid for my own tuition. Maybe that’s why I took getting up and being there seriously. I paid for my own gas to drive the car I was blessed to have been able to use, passed down from my oldest sister. I worked a part-time job from high school through my first few years post-college (yes, working both a full-time and a part-time jobs during a period).
College for me meant learning something in a field I had an interest, and then graduating and getting a job in that field. I was an average student, taking over two years of undergraduate time before I started understanding just how to study. But I learned, and I did, and I graduated. And I got a job. Returning for Graduate School was so that I could go into another direction that I’d become even more passionate about. And again, having to pay for my own education, while working, meant taking it seriously enough to at least show up.
Now, I will be the first to say that college isn’t for everyone; and especially not a 4-year degree program! But if you’re going to bother to apply, accept, pay, and attend school, why wouldn’t you want to do all that you could to succeed?
Show up. Be on time. Read the material. Ask questions. Complete the assignments. Do your part to learn!
One time my mother told me, to paraphrase, “You’re not doing me any favors by going to college.” Her point was that whether I was successful in college or in life, that was on me. And she was right. She’d already done her part of getting me past the finish line of high school, and encouraging and preparing me for college. What road I took from that point was my responsibility.
But there are times I seriously think that many students feel that they’re doing us, their professors and administrators, a favor being at the school; coming to class! And sadly, for many of them, they will have a difficult time finding a job. Or being able to keep one if they get hired.