10 Commandments for Absent Students

Empty desks reveal the number of absent students in a classroom] - The  Portal to Texas History
Does this look like your classroom lately? Empty desks galore!

Core scripture: “Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.” (Luke 6:38)

Message: It was a God moment.  I cannot count the number of times the Lord has spoken to me through my prayer card cup on my desk at work.  Every morning I draw a new card from my cup to decide what to pray for that day.  Yesterday one of those cards stood out to me immediately. 

Absent students.

I bowed my head and began to lift up the numerous kids that have been missing from my classes by name.  Most are COVID related.  Some are unknown family situations.  Some are vacation related.  Others yet just have that pesky winter sickness.  Upon finishing my prayer, my blog topic for today was handed to me on a silver platter. 

How do we as Christian teachers reach out to those who are absent?

Through my almost 20 years of teaching, here are some tips I have learned to help the transition of those who have been gone for an extended period.  Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the 10 Commandments of Absence:

  1. Preach procedures beforehand.  My absent procedure is encouraging the kids to communicate while they are at home and to get on Google Classroom as much as they can.  When they return, they are expected to come talk to me.  And believe me, these procedures must be talked about regularly.  Especially with 7th graders! 
  2. Reach out while they are gone.  This can be done through e-mail, a quick phone call, or even a handwritten card.  Communicate with the student, the parents, or even both.  So far this semester, e-mail has been best for me.  I have been in communication with a girl out in California, another girl who was suspended, and a plethora of students out with COVID exposure. 
  3. Talk to their friends.  I have learned that sometimes rumors fly around why kids are absent, but most close friends keep tabs on their besties that are gone.  This may give you the inside scoop on what that kid is enduring while they are gone. 
  4. Pray for these kids.  Lift up their health, their travels, or whatever else may be keeping them out of school.  If it is someone who might appreciate it, let them know you are praying for them. 
  5. Honor their name while they are gone.  It seems like when someone is not in the room, our culture says we have free reign to say whatever we want about someone.  That is true, but ONLY if the comments are positive and encouraging.  If you hear others demean or slander an absent student, end it politely but swiftly.  Stick up for them!  Kids talk to each other, and unwholesome talk could devastate someone. 
  6. Send work home or have it ready when they return.  You don’t want to overwhelm an absent kiddo, and if they can get a few things done while they are home, all the better.  Write yourself a sticky note reminder to have them make up a quiz when they return.  Don’t leave it to the kid to come see you.  Seek them out yourself.  It shows you care.
  7. Send a fun picture of one of their friends.  One of my favorite students was gone for an entire week, and you could just see her bestie deflate each day she was gone.  I asked the girl if she wanted to pose for a quick picture to wave to her friend, and she readily obliged.  Then, the rest of the class, wanting to get in on the fun, declared they wanted to pose for a selfie to send the girl.  It took a few seconds, but it was so worth it to show that kid she was missed and that she was loved.  The girl responded immediately to my e-mail with those pictures.  You could feel her excitement! 
  8. Welcome them back with open arms.  Yesterday one of my new students that started in January returned.  I have no clue why she was gone for a few days, but when she walked through the door, I threw my hands up and enthusiastically said her name.  Her eyes immediately lit up!  That girl’s smile beneath her mask beamed.   
  9. Ask how they are doing before anything else.  If they were on vacation, ask how Mexico was.  If they were out sick, ask how they are feeling.  Even ask them if they watched the Chiefs game or something like that.  Just chit chat.  Don’t go straight for the jugular and talk about the missing quiz score or missing project.  That shows insensitivity, and you should be desiring to make that transition back to school as smooth as possible.
  10. Show grace under certain circumstances yet hold them accountable.  They can’t be forgiven everything, but some might need to have an excused assignment or an alternate option to fit their needs.  I have a young man who has not returned after Christmas Break.  Rumor has it that he is stuck in Mexico.  I have already excused him from two smaller assignments, and I know I will be shortening a few other things for him when he returns. 

The point is to show you care.  Even the smallest act of kindness can be remembered forever.  Take in case the young lady I was communicating with over the last week via e-mail.  She was suspended for doing something she shouldn’t have done, yet I reached out to her and let her know that I would help her if any rumors were being spread.  She replied immediately, thanking me for my kindness.

A day or two later when she was serving her last day of ISS, she told me to come down and see her.  I shoved my grading aside and walked down to the library conference room.  She smiled at me and handed me a handwritten letter.  It was one of those keepers.  She poured her heart out in four paragraphs full of gratitude that absolutely made my day, and when she returned to my class yesterday, we ALL welcomed her back with open arms.  She loved it!

Be that teacher to the absent kid.  Check in on them while they are gone.  Show grace when needed.  Make their return to class a celebration worthy of the prodigal son!  Your small act of kindness that shows you care will echo through that child’s soul, making them feel special.    

Challenge: Who has been absent from your class lately?  Which kid needs a little pick-me-up to brighten their day?  Read through the 10 Commandments of Absence above and pick the right tricks that will work for you.

Prayer points: Lift up the following areas to the Lord …

  • Praise God for the connections you get to make while students are absent. 
  • Pray for your absent students’ lives while they are gone.
  • Pray the transition back for your absent students will flow smoothly.

Scripture study: Read through the story of the prodigal son on the link below.  What made the son’s return so special for him?  How can we take this as an example of how to treat our absent students?

Just for fun: Kids say the darndest things.  Last Sunday was a special day for that.  No, it wasn’t based on the Chiefs miracle of going the length of the field in 13 seconds to kick the game tying field goal.  It was a comment from my youngest son.  We were sitting in the car, munching our lunch from QT, when he spoke up and said, “Daddy, where is your favorite place in the world?”  I couldn’t come up with a quick answer, and he followed that by saying, “My favorite places are church and QT.” 

Prayer: Father, help us remember to reach out to absent students, showing them the love You show us.  Amen. 

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