A Variation On An Age Old Adage—Absence Does Not Make the Mark Grow Longer!

“In this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes” - Benjamin Franklin. To this quotation I would have to also add the certainty of a high number of absences during COVID times. Indeed, I cannot think of a day this year where all my students were present in class. Absence was at an all time high this year due to COVID-19, necessary isolation protocols, mental health, to name a few. 

In a year when students were already heading into school with an often profound academic deficit, the last thing they needed was to miss more content and fall even further behind in their studies. I had to cheerfully adapt to ensure students were not penalized for being absent. Firstly, in order for me to help my students succeed, they needed to be able to communicate with me easily and in a timely manner. Communication with absent students was possible only through email. I took the time to teach students early on in the semester something seemingly innocuous like how to politely and properly communicate through email with me, their teacher. Following are minimums to insist upon: proper salutations (e.g. “Hello Mrs. Clifford” rather than “Hey!”); the necessity of precision in what one asks (e.g. Rather than, “Can you help me with Question 3?” how about, “Would you kindly help me with the Unit 1 – Module #3 – Lecture Note-Individual Question #3a?”); I am a human being who very much appreciates words like “kindly”, “thank you”, and “please.” I found, this quick little lesson provided fewer frustrations for both the teacher and student, and, by extension, perhaps even parent! I also informed my students the times when they would be reasonably guaranteed to hear back from me; hence, I set realistic yet also flexible parameters for myself so that I would not always be “on” and “at” work 24 hours a day, seven days a week!

Regular lessons included a Lecture Note, a Power Point, and an accompanying video. My lecture notes become the lock and key of the course; basically, I wrote the equivalent of a textbook for the course, doing so with some individual stylistic flair. Lecture notes included anything that was taught through the Power Point, including sample questions taken up in class, homework questions, and full answers. All and sundry were accompanied either by a video lesson taught by myself or someone from the Khan academy/YouTube video link, or another reputable source. Most students learn better by being physically present in the classroom. But if a student was absent, the above allowed for them to not fall too far behind. 

I created a bank of replacement assignments and tests. Early in the semester, I tried to have students write/catch-up on any missed assignments and tests shortly after they returned back to school. This quickly became a nightmare, and, in turn, was as huge a stressor for me as it was for any student who lagged in terms of their adherence to evaluation dates. I thus started using instructional support days (i.e. “make-up days”) as my “pressure release” valve. Approximately every six weeks, students had two days to “catch-up” on any missed work. Replacement assignments and tests were completed at that time. Students with no missed evaluations were rewarded by being able to finish up any lingering course work, peruse new avenues of potential interest, and/or work ahead in the course.

In pre-COVID times my course was always chock full with content and activities. But, during COVID, I had to adapt for student and/or teacher absences. I built in more “down time” which afforded students the opportunity to simultaneously “catch-up” if needed, but also give students time to work on their “Above and Beyond” activities (See Part 2 of this 4 part series for clarification). It was difficult for me to give up a particularly engaging/popular activity/lab but in the longer term, it was necessary both for my students’ mental health and for my own mental health. Down time did not become wasted time but instead allowed students to reach their academic potential in their own way and generally within their chosen time frame.  

If you would like to have a copy of the lecture notes I used for my courses I am only too willing to share them with you. I have attached an example of my lecture notes below. 

In conclusion, I hope this series of articles has been useful for you. I think as educators we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to create an incredible program for our students. These last few years; however, we must show ourselves some professional grace and pat ourselves (and our colleagues) on the back that we are indeed trying our best under incredibly difficult circumstances!

Pictorial Summary Of A Sample Survival Plan For Chemistry Teachers During COVID times!



Thank you to my husband, Matthew Clifford, my editor-in-chief.