Often I find myself feeling like I’m chasing my students down and making sure they take care of their business, rather than the other way around.
It’s like Hide and Go Seek. The student misses an assignment, tries to hide, and it’s up to me to follow up, find the student, and rectify the situation.
It’s exhausting. It’s enabling. And it doesn’t teach students how to take responsibility. And sometimes, it’s necessary.
But this year, I’ve been trying to flip things a bit and have my students take more ownership. Here are a couple things I’m doing:
1. Requiring students to text me if they’re going to be absent or late.
This sends the message that I expect my students to be in my class and to be on time. I want to make sure they they know that I care about them and that my class is important for their education.
When they text me, my students demonstrate regard. Another benefit is that I have a record of students, in addition to my attendance binder, who are late and absent, and I can easily text them back to remind them not to get behind and to check my class website for the classwork and homework.
2. Requiring students to write a thoughtful note if they miss an assignment.
I got this idea from a teacher in Lisa Delpit’s most recent book, Multiplication is for White People. I’ve just started doing this, and so far, it’s working well. For too many students, homework is an option, not a habit. When I taught ninth graders, it was not uncommon for less than half to complete their homework.
The note — in which students explain why they didn’t complete the assignment, how missing homework impacts their education, and when they will complete the assignment — does two things. First, it sends the message that when something is due, you must turn something in. You can’t have nothing. Second, like the texting requirement, it puts accountability on the student. Instead of missing something — instead of hiding — the student must be reflective and produce something. You can’t just run away and fail.
You may ask how I’m doing with follow up. Do students actually text and write notes? By and large, yes. I’d say that about 90 percent of my students text me when they’re absent or late. The other 10 percent need follow up and intervention. Some of the non-texters rebel against the expectation and think that the expectation is a form of control. I respond by saying that it is a form of mutual respect, relationship, and commitment to education.
I’ll keep you posted about the no-homework note. I predict it’ll be harder to enforce. After all, a thoughtful note takes at least three to five minutes, much longer than a hurried text. But I think it’ll be worth it to put in the time to make this an expectation in my classroom. Otherwise, homework will continue to be something students will avoid without thoughtfulness and follow-through.