Q. I have a family trip planned that will mean taking my son and daughter out of school for a few days. I’ve already notified the school and told the kids they need to get their assignments ahead of time, but the principal is giving me a hard time about it. Does she have a right to mark the trip as unlawful?
It depends on the state and district, but generally, yes. It’s a toothless designation. She can’t forbid you from going on the trip, of course. But if she helps you to recognize the message you are sending your children by taking them out of school for a personal trip, she will have done you and your family a great service.
Ask any parent if a student who is in school has a better chance to learn than a student who is absent, and most of them will say yes. Ask them the same question when it’s time for their big trip to Cancun, however, and you’ll find that it only applies to other kids, not their own.
I’m certainly not arguing that it’s never okay to miss school. I can easily think of a dozen things that are more critical than a day’s attendance.
But what is concerning to teachers is the cavalierness with which many parents yank their kids from learning. They shrug off a trip to Dollywood or a hair appointment or a “mental health day” as if there are no consequences. They ignore the hidden costs.
For one, think of the impact on the teacher and the other students. Whenever kids are absent, teachers have to reissue work we’ve already issued. We often have to resupply notes we already did, issue tests we already gave (usually during our brief lunch breaks or planning time), and we sometimes have to reteach the whole lesson for the sake of one student. This takes away from time spent on the class as a whole.
Teachers are not without compassion. We gladly go the extra mile for a child who’s been very sick or had to attend a funeral for a loved one. But when we’re working overtime to catch up a student who was whitewater rafting while we were back at school busting our humps, it can be a tad irksome. And I suspect if the shoe were on the other foot, you would feel the same way. Ever make a dinner for someone who didn’t show up, and then they waltz in three hours late wanting to know where the food is?
(Quick aside: If there is a local orthodontist willing to hold late appointments so kids don’t have to miss school, I will personally recommend you to everyone I know.)
Another hidden consequence is that the child may fall behind. Many studies have demonstrated a correlation between attendance and achievement. The most critical ability, coaches often tell us, is availability. It’s hard to learn when you’re not there.
But perhaps the most critical cost to consider is the impact on your child’s developing sense of responsibility. To illustrate: I hear a lot of people complain about millenials, and if you happen to work with some, you are aware that many (not all) can be unreliable at showing up when expected. According to a recent study, 69 percent of millenials claim that regular workplace attendance is “unnecessary.” Cramps, a headache, a hangover, a late flight, and a host of such things that previous generations would have shaken off as mild inconveniences are grounds for many of our younger colleagues to be out of work for days. How did they get so soft? Hmm, I wonder…
Could it be that during their formative years their parents didn’t instill in them the importance of fulfilling one’s obligations? That they didn’t do enough to teach them to consider the impact their actions have on others? That the only thing that matters is how they feel, not what they do?
If we want our children to grow up to be dependable, responsible adults, we have to teach them to be dependable, responsible children. Yes, this may be inconvenient. It may mean putting up with the whining at breakfast and pushing them out of the door when they claim a mild stomach ache or sore throat. It may mean telling the soccer coach that your child will arrive at practice after school is over and that leaving last period early is not an option. And, yes, it may mean rescheduling that cruise to Alaska for one of the 185 days of the year when your kids aren’t in school.
I know, I know. I can already hear all of the “buts” in my head as I write. This is one of those columns where I’ll get fewer “amen” than “you’re an idiot.” If anyone plans to criticize, however, could you wait a few days? I’m going to be out for a while with a headache and a trip to Dollywood.