Wednesday, August 23, 2017
So, don't. Over at Above the Law, Prof. Kerriann Stout wrote 10 Things That Will Absolutely Piss Off Your Law Professor. She notes it is not an exhaustive list, but it is a good one and worth a read. This year, I added a new bit of information to my first day of class about how to interact with me about absences and workload. (I often discuss this in class at some point, but I don't recall ever doing it in both of my classes on day one.)
So, here's the deal. In my classes, I allow a certain number of absences (depending on number of credits and days we meet) without questions for personal reasons, interviews, etc. Here is an example of my attendance clause:
Students are expected to attend every class. Students are permitted to miss up to four classes for other obligations without explanation. This number is to include virtually all absences, including sickness, out-of-town interviews, etc. (but does not include classes missed for religious observance). If classes in excess of four are missed, to avoid withdrawal from the course, a written explanation may be required, including the reason for missing additional classes, the student’s plan to ensure the materials covered in the missed classes will be learned, and the reasons the student should be permitted to continue in the course. The policy is designed to facilitate learning, not impose hardship.
This way, students can plan ahead (and most do), and they can make decisions as professionals must about how they prioritize their time. Despite this policy, every year I have students email me to say they will (or did) miss class because they:
- Have to finish a paper for another class
- Have a law review note or moot court brief due
- Must study for a midterm
- Need to prepare for a clinic meeting/hearing
- Plan to attend an out-of-town football game/baseball game/concert
Again, I do not require nor do I ask for an explanation (unless it is related to excess absences, and no one has tried these reasons for that). My new tack is to explain:
I am interested in you as a human being, so please do not hear me saying I don't care what you do or why. And if you need help, you should ask. And if you can't ask me, talk to our Dean of Students or Dean of Academic Affairs or ask a friend. There is help available; please let us help. What I am about to tell you is not about when you need help. It is about what you say when you can't make it to class or be prepared for that class and about what you say to me (or my colleagues) in communicating that information.
Though I do not require it, I appreciate it when you tell me you cannot be in class on a given day. I am am fine if you very rarely request a pass for the day because you are not prepared. But I don't ask you for reasons for your absence or why you are not prepared. So, if you volunteer that information and tell me that you have to miss class or are unprepared because you need to finish a paper for another class, that says to me, "I have prioritized another class over yours." You may not mean to be saying that, but it is in many ways what you are saying.
I understand that you may be sharing to be honest. I appreciate that, and if I were to ask you, honesty is the best policy. I get that you might be trying to communicate that you are not missing my class for a frivolous reason. Okay, but you have still told me your priorities. I also understand that you might want some level of absolution. I can't and shouldn't give you that. We all have a lot to do, and sometimes life gets in the way of life, so we must make tough choices. That does not make me mad. Just don't volunteer that you made such a choice when you don't need to volunteer that you did.
I raise this for you not because it really upsets me. It doesn't. It may annoy me on a given day, but I can handle it. But it really, really irritates some of my colleagues, even if they don't tell you. And it is an incredibly risky thing to share with a client or boss, who definitely don't want to hear someone else's work is more important than their's.
So, be honest when asked, and take responsibility for your actions. Don't share information unnecessarily. Don't seek external absolution from professors, or clients, or bosses. I am here to teach, and I am here to help you learn, and grow, and find the resources you need to thrive. But I am not here to make you feel better about not doing the work I have asked of you.