Saturday, January 4, 2014

Attendance Lessons

Last month, my bosses at work decided to institute an attendance competition.  As high school teachers, we are required to submit attendance electronically every period.  In order to improve our record, which factors into the amount of funding our school receives, the deans of instruction started a competition, declaring that the team with the best attendance record would be treated to breakfast by the losing team. 
Some teachers are very methodical and always get their attendance in on time.  I am not one of them.  As a first-year teacher responsible for teaching 3 different subjects, I feel like I’m juggling chainsaws, trying to remember to do everything that is required of me.  Everyday, I teach three sections of anatomy and physiology, two sections of AP Biology, and one section of a research class.  On the days when I am more frazzled than normal (and there are many of them), my attendance record slips. 
At the end of every day, the deans sent out attendance records, with details of which teacher forgot to take attendance during what period.  Inevitably, my name was always on the list, a badge of shame as to my sloppy record.  The leader of our team – the head of the social studies department – began to get into the habit of stopping me in the hallway to talk to me about my attendance.  Then she started to send out team-wide emails every period to remind us to take attendance.  Emails that I never saw in time for them to be of any use. 
I am a pretty stubborn person.  Put enough pressure on me and my first instinct is to do the opposite of what people are pressuring me to do.  However, this was the workplace and the competition, misguided as it may have been, was for a worthy cause.  I did want to be better at taking attendance even if it did irritate me that my name and attendance record was sent to the rest of my colleagues on a daily basis. 
So I swallowed my pride.  I bit my tongue, holding back the sarcastic comments, and I nodded along to my colleague’s suggestions.  One of my students, in a burst of energy that I have yet to see being applied to biology, made a huge sign for my classroom that said “TAKE ATTENDANCE.”  My problematic class was the last period of the day, when I was too tired to remember much of anything.  So a teacher down the hall assigned a student to come and remind me.  Everyday, this student, who at the beginning of the year wrote down that his goal for my class was “to remain invisible for the entire year,” came walking into my room to remind me to take attendance. 
My attendance-taking improved, if only marginally.  I was still the teacher that marred my team’s record but my average improved and eventually the competition ended, with my team coming out as the winner.  When the holiday break ends and I return to work, the other team will be required to bring us breakfast. 
I also suspect that I learned something.  Although what that lesson was, I still haven’t figured it out.     


  1. That definitely would have made me crazy as well. I'm impressed you were able to see past the irritation it caused to see the end game. I hate reward/punishment competitions (almost as much as I dislike 'goal setting'). I don't find them fun or useful. But if nothing else your student was engaged. :o)

    1. It was a lesson in biting my tongue. And if I only I could channel that student's enthusiasm for other things...

  2. Fellow exhausted first-year, three prep-having teacher here...I empathize with your situation so much! One of the things that's helped me the most, so far, is having a set routine for each class period. Greet students at the door, they start on their "do now" task, as I take attendance. Although it's an imperfect guide, the book "Teach Like a Champion" has some great routines in it that can be a sanity-saver for us newbies. Threshold (greeting at the door), SLANT, and quick transitions are the best I've found from it. Best of luck to you and hang in there--it's almost the end of your first year! :)


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