I teach 98 kids. Well, I taught 98 kids. Now I teach … avatars? Disembodied Google Docs assignments? I don’t even know anymore. My school has made the transition to “online learning” more easily than some. We were 1:1 on Chromebooks, and our tech staff drove to the apartments of any students who needed new ones to make sure they could get online. We’ve provided families WiFi access, and there’s really no reason why any kids shouldn’t be able to at least attempt their online assignments.

And yet, what about the missing students? Of my 98 students, the vast majority are making at least a cursory attempt at completing work. But there are ten of them who just haven’t shown up. They haven’t logged in to Google Classroom. They haven’t joined the Zoom meetings. They don’t respond to emails, and they don’t return our phone calls.

The missing students have made me a little frantic.

Some of the missing students, I can feel relatively confident, just don’t want to do the work. This quarantine is their dream scenario; their parents are still working, so nobody is making them stay inside or practice social distancing. They can now spend all day playing soccer or Fortnite—or a combination of the two—and, as long as they avoid contact with their teachers, there’s nothing we can do about it.

But there are also kids where we’ve had to call Child Protective Services a few times already this year. Are they okay? And the ones who did their work prior to this shutdown and have now disappeared. Are they sick? Are they going to work with parents? Not knowing is killing me.

Here’s a dirty little secret: I veer wildly between caring way too much whether my kids complete their work (but what if they never finish reading To Kill a Mockingbird? How dare the virus rob them of that!) and not caring a single bit.

Mostly, I just want them to be okay, and I want to know that they’re okay.

I want to see their digitized, glitchy little faces on my phone screen as I curse Zoom and my slow internet connection. I want them to tell me why they’re not doing their work—not because I’m all that concerned about their learning, but because I want to diagnose a problem and fix it.

I’m a little reassured by what I’m seeing from my son’s third-grade class. Some of his best friends—who I know are doing just fine because they FaceTime regularly—aren’t showing up to the school meetings, aren’t completing the FlipGrid videos, or aren’t doing any of the million other online assignments. Their parents just don’t have the bandwidth for it, and I get that. And, I’m hoping my own students are in the same situation.

I feel a little like the mom in a dramatic movie, making the plea to her child’s kidnappers: Please. I just want to know that you’re okay. Just send me something to let me know you’re okay.

I wish I could wrap this up neatly with a solution, but I don’t have one yet.

I will say that originally there were about 25 missing students we couldn’t track down, but we found and connected with 15 of them in the first week. We went little outside the box. We contacted the older siblings we’d taught, or the younger ones who were in lower grades at our school. We stalked them on social media. We guilt-tripped their friends into making them call us. We called at weird times of day, over and over again. We contacted their parents at work.

And we’ll keep doing the same for our missing ten. And we’ll keep hoping and praying that they’re just lazy or enjoying a few weeks of sweet, sweet freedom before we hunt them down. And we’ll keep asking. Please. Just let us know you’re okay.

What are you doing to find your missing students? Share on our WeAreTeachers Helpline.

Plus, teachers … the next few weeks of online learning do not have to be perfect.

Illustration by Allie Ogg

I'm Worried About the Missing Ones