By Katie Azevedo, M.Ed.
Absences happen. In most cases, an occasional absence from school is not a big deal – as long as you do the right things when you return.
On the flip-side, if you don’t know what to do when you’re absent from school, and if you don’t do the right things when you return, missing just one day of high school can leave you feeling overwhelmed and left behind.
First things first: An absence from school is NOT an excuse for NOT completing work.
Each teacher will have his or her own policy, but some teachers will require you to submit work on time even if you’re absent. Other teachers will accept work a day late for excused absences.
Know your teacher’s policy and follow it, even if you don’t agree with it.
If a teacher requires you to submit work on time even if you’re absent, but circumstances make it impossible for you to do so (like you’re reeeaallllly sick), then you need to reach out to your teacher as soon as possible to communicate your situation. Do not wait until the next class to let the teacher know that you will be submitting late work. At the very least, doing this shows initiative, and us teachers are suckers for that.
What to do when your absence is planned
If you know in advance that you will be absent from school, let your teachers know as early as you can. It’s best to speak to them directly, but email them if that’s not possible. Here’s the right way to email your teachers.
In either case, you need to do three things during this pre-absence conversation:
- Give advance notice of the day(s) you will be absent
- Ask if there is any work / assignments you can collect ahead of time
- Confirm your teacher’s policy for submitting late work
Make sure that all your work is completed and submitted on time, unless your teacher gives you an extension.
When you return to school, follow the steps I go over in the section (below) called “What to do when you return to school.”
What to do when your absence is not planned
If your absence is unplanned (stomach bug, malaria, the Bubonic Plague), you should follow three basic steps before returning to class, assuming you’re not on your deathbed.
- Email your teachers to let them know you will be out. If you feel well-ish enough to do work, ask if there are any assignments you could do while you are home.
- Again, assuming you’re well-ish enough to do work, check for class postings and assignments on whatever school-management system your school uses (PowerSchool, Google Classroom, Blackboard, Canvas, etc.).
- Do the work. Do the work. Do the work.
What to do when you RETURN to school
Whether your absence was planned or not, you should always follow these six steps when you return to school. As in, the day you get back.
- Check in with every teacher. Ask for copies of missed handouts, class notes, and assignments. As tempting as it may be, don’t rely on your friends for this information.
- Be sure you are clear about each teacher’s deadline for submitting late work. Write down these deadlines on the awesome list you’re going to make in step 3.
- Write an actual list (on actual paper) of everything you need to do. Go through one class at a time, writing down everything you need to do to catch up: this includes notes you need to get, tests you missed, homework, classwork, etc. Also write down when everything is due. Again, do this on paper.
- Schedule time to stay after school to make up any tests you may have missed. Don’t wait more than a few days to make up tests, or you’ll forget the material.
- Again, check your school-management system for announcements and assignments that posted while you were out.
- Do the work. Do the work. Do the work.
Final notes about being absent
Don’t stress if you occasionally miss class. As long as you know what to do when you’re absent from school — before, during and after your absence — you should be fine. Sure, it might be stressful for a few days or so, depending on how long you were out, but you should be in decent shape as long as you follow these guidelines and do the work.
On the other hand, if you’re chronically missing school, the steps here are not likely going to be enough to get you in a good place, academically. According to a U.S. Department of Education study about the effects of excessive absenteeism, “Students who are chronically absent—meaning they miss at least 15 days of school in a year—are at serious risk of falling behind in school.” If this is you, if you’re missing more than 15 days of high school per year, then you’re going to be facing an uphill battle. In that case, find a school social worker or guidance counselor who can help you come up with a more specific plan for managing your missed work.
Are you in college? Stay tuned for my next post: What to do when you’re absent from school: College edition. The rules are a little different for you guys.