Getting sick is bad, but getting sick during finals is mortifying. I was fortunate enough not to be sick during finals last term, but I did get sick the week before. I missed class Tuesday through Thursday, which included a statistics lecture that could have helped improve my exam score and a theatre history discussion that might have brought my grade out of the dump. I even had to skip out of working on a group project because I had a University Health Service appointment, which killed my presentation and subsequently my grade in that class.
The thing is, I hate to miss class. I almost never skip, and if or when I do, it’s usually to do other homework or finish something else that I need more time for. It’s not as if I don’t spend time doing homework. But it’s tough to balance 16 credits with Marching Band, which is an additional two credits. If you miss class or lecture and you miss the material, you might be completely screwed. I would hate to be at a disadvantage for a final exam or pop quiz.
That’s why I don’t understand attendance policies. The incentive to come to class is already there. Making it part of your final grade? Come on.
Sure, it’s nice to have an easy 10 percent of your grade be determined by participation and attendance. But having your grade dropped from an A- to a B+ because you missed three class periods seems unreasonable.
I know how to prioritize. I think the majority of the student body has the cognitive ability to realize that, sometimes, going to class is a lower priority than getting sleep or finishing a paper. It’s one thing to sleep in because you’re lazy and miss your 8 a.m. class because you’re tired, but it’s a little different if your weekend was gobbled up by other homework — or Marching Band, which is also a class obligation — and you could only start your paper at 10 p.m. on Sunday. Sometimes, health comes first. And why shouldn’t it? You could miss class now and sleep in, or you could sacrifice sleep for class and get sick. Either way, you’ll miss class. The difference is the little note of excuse.
I understand that there are legitimate pedagogical justifications to mandating attendance. If students don’t come, who is going to discuss last night’s reading? Instructors think that if they don’t require attendance, no one will come to class and then nothing valuable will be said.
I would suggest just the opposite. I think if the class content is interesting, accessible and necessary to know for exams, students will come no matter what. When I took a literary studies course, the professor had no attendance policy. Yet every day there was still a full classroom. The discussions went on. Participation was a part of our grade too, but attendance didn’t affect participation unless you never went. This way, you could skip a few class periods if it was absolutely necessary. Even in the two classes I’ve had where attendance was not strictly mandated, there was still healthy discussion about the text every day. When it comes down to it, students who come half the time and do all the homework are still more valuable to the class than students who don’t have time to do all the homework because they are going to every class and trying to have a healthy sleep schedule.
Those students who attend class are the ones who are the most successful, and they know it. Rarely do students ace a class they never went to. You might pull a B if you’re lucky, but it’s not always an easy feat.
Fundamentally, the incentive to go to class exists regardless of an attendance policy. It’s not fair to students to mandate attendance. Sometimes, students get sick and just can’t get themselves to UHS, or they don’t want to get others sick and want to give themselves a chance to get better by resting.
Attendance policies are nonsense. If you go, you absorb the material. If you don’t, you don’t. Your loss. Sometimes, it’s just the lesser of two evils. Better that than to be sick during finals.
Eric Szkarlat can be reached at email@example.com.