Advice for teachers to reduce truancy and keep kids in school

Charisse Beach Author, Educator, Illinois State Board of Education Certified and National Presenter At-Risk Students: Education & Evolution

Truancy—the act of a student skipping school—has been clearly identified as one of the early warning signs of students headed for potential delinquent activity. It is critically important to identify those who have disengaged and are perhaps already skipping classes, and provide support for re-engagement.

Engaging students has been identified as one key element in preventing truancy. This process includes clarifying and bringing into the open the negative perceptions of school that students may hold, reframing school learning in a meaningful and concrete way, renegotiating students’ involvement in school learning, and establishing a productive working relationship.

Chronic truant offenders may require a truancy-reduction program with wraparound support. An effective program must contain the following components:

  • Whole family involvement
  • A continuum of supports, including meaningful incentives for good attendance
  • Collaboration among community law enforcement, mental health workers, mentors, and social service providers, in addition to educators


Do

Do build positive relationships

Get to know your students’ likes and dislikes, their family life and their ability levels. Once students have shared their interests, encourage them to read and write about them. Providing greater choice in what students read and write will increase literacy skills and enhance the bond between you and them. It is crucial that students know their teacher knows and cares about them. 

Do discuss truancies with parents

Students who are regularly absent or tardy to class may have conflicting obligations. It’s disheartening to hear a parent give the excuse that their student is frequently absent because the parent has to work and does not have a babysitter. Or the student is late because he/she doesn’t have an alarm clock. Unfortunately, this teaches students that school attendance is not a priority.

You must stay in frequent contact with parents whose child has developed a pattern of truancy. Be sure to document all parent communication as proof of your diligence to address the truancy issue. Parents who do not value education may become complacent with their child’s attendance. Repeated communication may be the catalyst to change the parent’s apathy toward school attendance. If not, you must exercise your rights and responsibilities and timely report the truancy to the administration and/or intervention team. 

Do create a progressive classroom environment

Here are four classroom strategies to help encourage truant learners to want to attend school regularly:

  • Allow students to work on more hands-on activities, projects, and active participation. Diminish the use of worksheets and workbooks.
  • Work with truant students in small, supportive groups where they are taught at their instructional level. Frequently monitor and assess progress so the instruction matches their needs.
  • Maintain high expectations for all students. Truant students need to be appropriately challenged and encouraged with the words, “You are smart! You can do it!”
  • Whenever possible, provide in-school suspensions and detentions as consequences rather than out of school suspensions. Truant offenders look for opportunities to avoid school. Don’t give them any!
     

Do implement credit recovery options

Many truant students are in danger of failing in their current grade or of dropping out of school entirely. Traditional methods are often inadequate for providing support to truant students because they are not present to receive it. Credit recovery programs can be an important strategy for dropout prevention. In these programs, students can work closely with their teachers, either individually or in small groups, to complete coursework or credits required to graduate. In other words, credit-recovery programs need to address the challenges that prevented students from previous success. This may include flexible pacing and schedules of instruction, adapting instructional methods and content to students’ level of skills and learning style, extra practice and frequent assessments to inform instruction, and to provide feedback to students.


Educators today are finding that online and blended learning are effective ways to reach students who fail one or more courses before they become disengaged, or who seek an alternative education program. The growth of online programs focused on credit recovery has redefined how educational technology can be used to address the needs of truant students. Credit recovery refers to a student passing and receiving credit for a course that the student previously attempted but was unsuccessful in earning academic credit towards graduation.

Additionally, you can give credit to truant students for learning life skills that help them to get back on track. This opportunity is a small investment but could have a huge payoff for the student. Credit recovery opportunities can be the difference between a high school dropout and a high school graduate.

Do identify struggling students early

Teachers are challenged to quickly identify academic deficiencies that plague a

student’s ability to be successful in school and may begin patterns of truancy. Response to Intervention (RtI) serves as the framework which provides direct services to combat the deficiencies. Student progress is closely monitored in order to identify those who fail to respond to the intervention(s). Next, the evaluation process begins to determine if a student may be eligible for special education services. This process can take up to sixty days, which is a significant amount of time for a student who is struggling in school. It is critical that this process is monitored with fidelity to avoid the onset of truancy.


Don't

Do not give failing grades for poor attendance

You must separate the student from his/her truancy. When you identify a student as truant, be careful not to lose objectivity and stop looking for the good the student is capable of achieving. Instead, address the truant behavior by providing attendance incentives rather than a punitive consequence such as failing grades. For instance, give a raffle ticket for each day of attendance, leading toward the grand prize of a Nook, Kindle, iPad, or laptop. 

Do not ignore at-risk characteristics

Some students who are regularly absent or tardy to class may be consumed with inappropriate relationships. Other offenders may lack motivation, struggle with low self-esteem, be plagued by addictions, abuse, or family adversities which prevent them from attending classes regularly. These students need to be referred to your intervention team for additional support.

School-based programs aim to identify attendance problems before they reach a chronic level and before patterns become entrenched and harder to reverse. The first step is to develop a school-based mentoring program. Truancy mentors should work on academics and/or assist with homework with their mentees. They need to develop collaborative relationships with teachers in order to enhance overall educational achievement. The goal of a truancy mentoring program is to redirect negative habits by developing healthy ones and providing positive adult support, thereby reducing risk factors that result in truancy.

Community-based programs recognize that truancy is not an individual or family problem alone, but a community problem that can best be addressed by collaboration among various systems within the community. Their objective is to reduce juvenile crime, loitering, graffiti, and the number of children unsupervised in the community. Full implementation involves a commitment of school principals, parents or guardians, community liaisons, and police officers. You can volunteer to organize and serve on such a council in order to fully implement these programs that directly address truancy issues.

Do not minimize socialization issues

Socialization is the drive for acceptance that encourages students to imitate their peers and join groups. Students want to belong somewhere. Evidence suggests that it is peers, not parents, who have the greatest influence on school-age students. If your classroom aims to improve student attendance, cultural acceptance among students must be evident. You should incorporate classroom strategies, such as peer mediation, that build relationships, strengthen peer acceptance, and foster appropriate social skills.

Do not ignore health and safety issues

Exposure to community violence, an unsafe home, or a dangerous path to school contributes to truancy. In addition, stress—resulting from bullying and school violence—impairs test scores, diminishes attention spans, and increases absenteeism and tardiness. It is discouraging, but many high school students either stay home or skip classes due to fear of violence. Invoke collaborative resources that directly improve student attendance.

Do not give up

Every one of us faces trials in our lives. Some face minimum hardships, while others have serious adversities to overcome. Today, many families are faced with various types of adversities that affect the entire family unit. Truancy is often the outcome during those difficult times. You can help your students and their families build better opportunities by advocating for programs that provide direct services to improve the family situation, which will reduce truancy.


Summary
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Truancy can create the onset of other at-risk behaviors. Teachers should advocate for and support policies that provide truancy reduction. In-school suspensions, before and after school detentions, credit recovery options and truancy-reduction programs, allow students to continue academic progress as they are receiving services to eliminate truancy.


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Charisse BeachAuthor, Educator, Illinois State Board of Education Certified and National Presenter

Charisse Beach has over twenty years experience as an educator, fourteen years as a school administrator. She served as principal of Premier Academy- Joliet, a Regional Safe School Program designed to provide alternative education for at-risk mi...

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