When I was in high school, I would quite often text my mom or dad asking if I could leave math early when I had it last block. It was my senior year, and I did have a car but because I was still 17, I needed a parent to call me out of school. Almost every time, my dad would text me back and say, “When you’re in college, you can skip as many math classes as you like.”
He made it a point my senior year to remind me that in a year, I would have a freedom that I had never had in school before and that I should prepare for it. He wasn’t encouraging me to skip classes in college at all, but he was just reminding me that I would have complete freedom over whether or not I would want to skip class.
When I first opened my syllabus in September and saw that I could only miss three History classes without failing the class, I was confused. We weren’t allowed to debate this rule, it was three classes and an F. This wasn’t what I was told at all. In three classes, I could be sick, I could have a family emergency, I might just even need to take a mental health day and I could fail an entire class.
Something about this felt wrong to me. I think it’s different from saying you get three unexcused absences (though I still think that’s ridiculous), but you are being asked to drag yourself across campus and up three flights of stairs to avoid getting an F. I know the next argument already. If you’re so sick, why don’t you just go to the Health Center and get a note?
I have a few issues with that statement. For starters, the Health Center is not always accessible. Especially at the beginning of the year, there was a mass amount of freshmen getting sick from getting accustomed to a new environment, and then there was a flood of people with allergies and other winter colds.
I made two attempts over my first semester to go to the Health Center, one time was more severe than others because I literally could not breathe without having a five-minute coughing episode. I could not get an appointment for three days after I called, which I got. They’re busy, but what about my classes with required attendance? Did I have to pick sitting through class while I was incapable of breathing just for the sake of not hitting three absences?
I felt particularly bad for several of my friends who experienced lengthy illnesses throughout the last semester. I couldn’t imagine how they dealt with classes where they had a limit to the number of classes they could miss. I remember a friend in a state of panic because she had to email her professor that she spent the night in urgent care and could not make it to class. That should not be happening.
My next question is, what about mental health days? I know that many people think that if mental health days are approved, then people will take advantage of missing classes. To that, I have a few responses. If people want to miss class and ultimately do poorly on a test or the class entirely, that should be on them. We are adults and in order to learn from our actions, we should experience the consequences. There are also ways to prevent that. If there can be a limited amount of classes missed, and certainly, there can be limits to the number of mental health days you take.
I have a professor this semester who does take attendance, but he explicitly said at the beginning of the course that if we ever need to miss a class here and there, we should just email him, and it’s okay. It’s when it becomes a pattern that he would say something. Can’t a professor put in the syllabus that if a student needs a mental health day here and there, it’s okay, but if they notice it becoming a consistent pattern every week, they will have a discussion? I see no issue with that, and I actually think that would be very beneficial for a professor to acknowledge that sometimes students need that time off.
I had a particularly hard transition to college, and from September to October, I was waking up before sunrise and getting probably only five hours of sleep because of how busy I was. In November, I crashed, and I wanted to take a mental health day. I was terrified to “waste” one of my absences, but I ultimately decided to take the day off.
I also want to point out something interesting. Last semester, in my classes that required attendance or had some sort of absence equal failure rule, my grades were lower. Actually, my best grade was in my one class that didn’t take attendance, and then my classes that took attendance but were easygoing in terms of the missing class had high grades as well. This is an interesting pattern that I’m predicting will be the same this semester.
There are many reasons why people skip class. Sickness is the most common, I would say, but family issues, needing a day off, having to help a friend with an emergency and more are all valid reasons to skip class. I believe that because there are so many reasons that people cannot attend classes, attendance needs to be kept out of college classes.
I would say attendance should not be taken even without all of these reasons. We are adults, and especially for those of us who are just starting college, learning the consequences of missing many classes can be helpful. It shouldn’t be shoved in every student’s face that you will fail for not attending because a majority of students do attend classes. But for people who regularly skip, they should have to learn the consequences of that, not the entire class.