The chronic absenteeism crisis part 1: What can educators do?

William Woods EDU

In June, the U.S. Department of Education released a report of the first national data set on chronic absence, revealing that over six million students — about 14 percent of the student population — missed 15 or more days of school in 2013-2014.

The report also specifies that, although chronic absenteeism occurs in every grade, it is most prevalent in high school students, with nearly one in five high school students chronically absent.

There can be several different causes for chronic absenteeism, such as poverty, poor health, limited transportation, difficult family circumstances and beyond. Other causes that can be addressed from an educator level is the issue of apathy, disengagement or a lack of motivation amongst students.

So how can education majors and future teachers prepare to keep our students eager to learn and — for those who are able — wanting to come back to class every day?

One approach comes from high school chemistry teacher Ramsey Musallam. He believes that getting students to ask questions and seek answers is the key to them enjoying school.

“[Questions and curiosity] are magnets that draw us towards our teachers, and they transcend all technology or buzzwords in education.” Musallam explains that, though new technology is helpful, if we place that above student inquiry then we are robbing ourselves of our greatest resource as teachers: our students’ questions.

“…if instead we have the guts to confuse our students, perplex them, and evoke real questions, through those questions, we as teachers have information that we can use to tailor robust and informed methods of blended instruction.”

Musallam’s formula for sparking learning and cultivating a curiosity in students and a hunger for knowledge is what he believes keeps them coming back to the classroom for more.

Here are the three rules Musallam always tries to incorporate into his lesson planning:

  1. Curiosity comes first.

“Questions can be windows to great instruction, but not the other way around.”

  1. Embrace the mess.

“We know learning is ugly… trial and error can still be an informal part of what we do every single day…”

  1. Practice reflection.

“What we do is important. It deserves our care, but it also deserves our revision. Can we be the surgeons of our classrooms? As if what we are doing one day will save lives. Our students our worth it. And each case is different.”

“I think dropping out of school comes in many different forms — to the senior who’s checked out before the year’s even begun or that empty desk in the back of an urban middle school’s classroom,” said Musallam. “But if we as educators leave behind this simple role as disseminators of content and embrace a new paradigm as cultivators of curiosity and inquiry, we just might bring a little bit more meaning to their school day, and spark their imagination.”

As a secondary education major at William Woods, you will take a Methods of Teaching course in your area of focus in education — whether it be biology, English, history, speech and theatre, physical education or art — and begin to develop creative and effective approaches to classroom instruction.

You will also take courses in psychology, like PSY221: Educational Psychology and PSY316: Psychology of the Adolescent and the Middle-Level Child, where you will learn more about the physical, intellectual, emotional and social development of adolescents and the best approach to the learning-teaching process for that age group.

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