Help! I’m Sick of Parents Letting Their Kids Skip School

It feels insulting and makes teaching impossible.

Dear We Are Teachers,

It’s my 10th year teaching 9th grade World Geography. After the pandemic, like a lot of schools, we’ve seen a huge rise in absenteeism. What used to be a handful of kids is now more like 20%. What’s unusual is that parents are fully aware of these absences. They’ll write in that their child was “having a bad morning” or “didn’t sleep well” or that they’re leaving early for spring break … in a year where they already have 20 absences. It feels insulting and makes teaching impossible. Is there anything we can do? And should we take it up with individual parents or our administration?  

—stay with me

Dear S.W.M.,

I think it’s probably too late in the year this year to address this widespread of a problem. But for next year, talk to your administration now about how you need a big change.

Ask them to revisit and readjust their absence/attendance policy next year. How are students who are absent this much promoted to the next grade level? Bring data when you meet to back up the absentee percentage of your class, and bring suggestions from yourself and other teachers on what to include.


Next, write a mass email to parents explaining that, due to the increase in student absences, you’ve had to adjust some class policies:

  • No makeup work or tests in advance. Students can make up tests at [this specific time] or [this specific time].
  • Students are responsible for getting, completing, and turning in makeup work independently using [your class website].
  • Parents can stay up-to-date on students’ missing assignments via [school grading system].

Make sure you send a draft of this to your administrator for approval first. Nothing like having to backtrack because your mom said no.

Finally, understand that you’re not alone in this struggle. Chronic absenteeism in schools has skyrocketed in recent years. Like many issues in education, we can’t task individual teachers with fixing a systemic issue.

Dear We Are Teachers,

My principal is a known misogynist (like, he was reprimanded this past fall for posting online about the “crazy females” he works with-type misogynist). I finally hit my breaking point this year when he wrote me up for leaving my room of 4th graders to go to the bathroom. When I explained that I tried calling the main office to cover me and no one picked up, he informed me that “just because you’re pregnant doesn’t mean you get special treatment.” I quit a few weeks later, and when he asked why, I said I could no longer do my job effectively under his management style. The next morning, we got a faculty-wide email that there had been changes to our duty stations. I checked—the only change was me, and instead of hall duty, I was added to outdoor bus line duty in an added position that was not under the cover of the pavilion. He also emailed me to say I’d been chosen to proctor four additional standardized tests this year for a grade level I don’t even teach. Normally I would just try to get through to the end of the year, but something in me cannot let this go. Who should I go to and what should I say?

—Imbued with BORROWED strength from my unborn child

Dear I.W.B.S.F.M.U.C.,

Oh, how I wish I could tell you my choice words for this … individual.

I’m glad you can’t let this go because I can’t either! Your principal is apparently unaware of what a clear case of workplace retaliation he has created for himself. You have the timestamped emails, the prior duty assignments … what a gold mine! He probably won’t get fired before the end of the year, but I bet he will be forced to scoop up all the B.S. he spread. A karmic delight.

One word of advice, though. Before you do anything, review your situation with a union rep on your campus. There might be a specific strategy or approach relative to your state or district they would recommend.

Don’t forget to email me when he backpedals on all of this and has to awkwardly say “just kidding” to all the extra assignments he just gave you. I’m grinning just thinking about it.

Dear We Are Teachers,

One of my 8th grade students failed a test back in January. I did everything I could to get him to retake this test. I talked to him in person. I emailed him several times. I sent him messages on our school management system. He never showed up to office hours to retake this test … and now his parents are complaining that I didn’t “make” him retake it! I don’t want to involve my administration in this—can I solve it myself without just kowtowing to their whims?

—you have got to be kidding me

Dear Y.H.G.T.B.K.M.,

I’m very curious how you were supposed to “make” this child appear in your classroom. Blackmail? Telekinesis? Dead lift? 🤔

That said, I have two thoughts. One is a hot take, one is a lukewarm take.

The lukewarm take: You did too much for this student. I think he gets two reminders max unless specified otherwise on an IEP or 504. When he doesn’t show up after 10 reminders, you’re trolling yourself at that point.

The hot take: I do think you could send an email to parents when students don’t show up to their retake. Just a quick “Hi, just wanted to let you know I gave Andrew an opportunity to retake the test he failed, and he didn’t show.” I think instead of “Why didn’t you make my kid retake the test?” what the parents mean is, “I wish we could have known he was rejecting these opportunities so we could have taken up his phone as collateral.”

I know it’s frustrating to do this song and dance year after year. But remember, it’s not your job to hunt down students and beg them to retake your tests. It’s your job to teach and to keep students and families informed on how you can support them. Let them make the choice to meet you halfway. Middle school is the time to be learning this lesson. You’re doing them a favor.

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Dear We Are Teachers,

I’m in my 17th year teaching 6th grade English. I have used the same curriculum (tests, quizzes, and resources I’ve created) for years, and I’ve never had so many students failing. Even my pre-AP students are struggling. In an effort to get their grades up, I allowed all my classes to take their midterm open-book with any notes they wanted, and the class average was still a 67. My coworkers are seeing the same thing. What should we do?

—what is happening