On my green sheet, it states that students can have two unexcused absences. All other excuses must be based on real circumstances preventing the student from coming to class: illness, injury, family emergencies, etc.
I recently received two emails from students explaining their absences. The first one explained that since it was Chinese New Year, he had to stay home to call his parents, and they were only available during the time he would be in my class. (Half the class is Chinese, and I suspect will also celebrate Chinese New Year, but none of them missed class.) I wrote to the student, told him about the other Chinese students, and said that this was not a valid reason for missing class. The second email came with the excuse that the student had to study for a Chemistry midterm, and therefore, he would have to skip both of my classes. I wrote back that ESL was supposed to help him pass Chemistry since he had to read the book and the tests as well as understand the lectures. I also told him it was not a valid excuse.
Now here is the problem. If both students had written that they were sick, they would have been excused. Perhaps there were other students who were absent around the same time but had written me that they were ill. Maybe they were ill and maybe they weren’t. How long is it going to take my two honest students with lame excuses to find out that if they had told me a lie (that they were sick), they would have been excused? In effect, aren’t I teaching the students to tell me lies and not tell me the truth?
However, is it possible that the two honest excuses were really valid excuses? A colleague thought the story of calling one’s parents on Chinese New Year was actually quite nice. I haven’t asked anyone about the Chem midterm excuse. I understand how students have to set priorities, and family and a Chem midterm were more important to the two students than the class. Perhaps the problem is more with me. As long as students are doing the work, getting good grades, and finding out what was done in class when s/he was absent, shouldn’t that be enough for me?
Here’s the dilemma. It IS a face-to-face class. It DOES make a difference if a student is in class or not. Part of the class is community building since students slowly get to know each other and trust each other. The question that isn’t asked on the first day of class can be asked in six weeks because of the trust among the students that has been established. The feeling that a student will be laughed at for his/her accent, grammar, or question gradually fades as students get to know and like each other. They are not afraid of speaking in front of newly-made friends. If a student can justify missing class for Chinese New Year or a Chem midterm, aren’t there even more “valid” excuses for students to miss class for? Isn’t this the proverbial slippery slope?