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Precalculus And The Case Of The Missing Children

Absenteeism is a tricky problem to deal with, because by its very nature, lecturing your students about how bad it is invariably reaches the wrong audience. It’s only a problem in my precalc class, partly because precalculus is an evening class; however, attendance in precalculus last semester was crap as well, when I taught it at a perfectly reasonable time in the afternoon.

I don’t want to take attendance; my students are adults, this isn’t a seminar class, and I want to evaluate people on their work, not on their presence in the classroom. Moreover, some (maybe three) of my chronic skippers actually know the material, and I don’t want to penalize them. Wanting my students to come to class is a byproduct of my wanting them to actually learn the material properly. So I’ve resorted almost subconsciously to dealing with the problem in the most passive-aggressive of manners. In particular:

  1. The class is long, so I give the students a ten-minute break in the middle. Many students tend to leave after the break. Gradually, I’ve pushed back the time of the break; it used to be halfway through the class; now it’s around two thirds of the way through.
  2. I tend to take a few minutes of each class going over homework. Recently I decided to leave this until after the break.
  3. Ditto for the friendly reminders that my students have a test next week, which I’ve taken to administering to 60% or so my students. The test dates were in the syllabus, so my students have no excuse for not knowing them; but I have a creeping suspicion that many of my students will be away this coming Tuesday. (I usually hold quizzes on Thursdays, and a lot of my students seem to interpret this to mean that Tuesday classes are optional.) This, incidentally, is why I’d make a mediocre high school teacher and a downright crappy elementary school teacher: because I am willing to let students dig their own graves. God help anyone who decides to complain that they didn’t know about the test: I only mentioned it in the course outline and in the two classes leading up to it. To say nothing of the review session.

We’ll see how it goes. I think that whether or not I get decent attendance for the test, it’s not going to be very well done: the last quiz was a disaster, and it was on material we’d covered a few days earlier. Nothing like a test worth a fifth of a grade to improve the percentage of students who come to class: some will be scared straight, and the others will drop out. (Well, except for this woman, whose other uncle will die right before the test. Or something. She’s still enrolled; I haven’t seen her for two weeks, but I’m sure she’s keeping up with the material. She told me so herself.)

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