The famous educational leader Harry Wong states, “The single greatest effect on student achievement is not race, it is not poverty – it is the effectiveness of the teacher” (Wong, 2009). This statement by Wong is often referencing teacher efficacy in terms of instruction in the classroom and its impact on student achievement. Many school districts around the country are now dealing with teacher effectiveness being impacted by a teachers absences from the classroom. Teacher absenteeism is a real and growing problem according to data from districts around the country. For instance, 27 percent of teachers in the nation a chronically absent, which in this study was defined as 10 or more school days missed (Harper, 2018). Another study, which labeled chronic absenteeism as missing 18 or more days, said that 16 percent of teachers they studied were chronically absent. This study also portrayed that districts across the nation average just under 13 days of leave offered to their employees. No matter if districts offered more or less days of leave, many teachers still exceeded their limit which was offered in their particular district (Joseph et al., 2014). The need for teachers to be an effective instruction leader cannot be met if the teachers are not present in their classes. Teacher absenteeism is a nationwide issue that must be addressed more effectively to improve our schools culture, climate, and ultimately student achievement in the classroom.
There are numerous factors that may influence teacher absenteeism. “Chronic absenteeism is often a symptom of a bigger problem” (Turner, 2017). Everyday across our country upwards of 5% of teachers will be absent (Districts Offer Incentives, 2012). These numbers will account for millions of teachers and even more students missing out on the potential for high quality instruction in the classroom. According to researchers at the University of Missouri teachers today note that for them their “stress is unbelievably high”, adding that “93 percent reported they feel high levels of job-related stress” (Barberio, 2018). Long hours that teachers often put into outside of the regular school days as well as pressures from items such as standardized testing create these stressors that may contribute to teacher absenteeism.
Other factors that could impact teacher attendance could include district personnel policies. Even items as simple as leaving a message rather than talking to an administrator to tell them you will be missing is a type of policy that has an impact on teachers come to school consistently. Also of note, studies have shown young teachers new to the profession tend to take many more sick days than those who have been teaching for many years. An article entitled Districts Offer Incentives says that younger generations of teachers tend to think of their allotted days as a “checking account rather than a savings account”(Districts Offer Incentives, 2012). As a result these young teachers often feel a sense of entitlement to use their days as they please with no accountability expected when they take an abnormal amount of Fridays or Mondays off to extend their weekends. As National Education Association (NEA) policy analyst Linda Davis states that these young teachers “just think of themselves. They have to think about their students, because no matter how good a substitute is, the substitute isn’t as good as they are”(Districts Offer Incentives, 2012).
School districts may also need to look at the overall climate of their schools and uncover issues such as how much teachers feel that they are appreciated within their job. The culture of a school are vital to reflect upon when deciphering reasons for excessive teacher absences. Along with culture, there must be a consideration of the leadership within a building and analyze if that has an impact on teacher absences. One study notes the potential disconnect with leadership noting that as some districts grow larger “it was no longer possible to retain the personal connection to staff that was needed to effectively manage and operate the sites” (Jackson, 2018). Finally, schools may have plans in place to try to curtail absences but those plans often times may be outdated and no longer effective, yet are still in place as policy and practice of the school district. As Davis states again, “You have to look at what’s going on in districts and in schools. You have to analyze the reasons behind the absences and see if you can understand the reasons. Also, a principal also has to inspire and make it clear that it is important to come to work everyday” (Districts Offer Incentives, 2012).
In addition to these factors, “professional leave” may also be hurting students in the classroom even though it’s intention is trying to help students in the future. Professional leave is usually defined as development for teachers at conferences or a similar meeting for growth of pedagogical instructional skills in the classroom. according to the Roll Call: Importance of Teacher Attendance study sick leave and personal leave account for 71 percent of leave taken by teachers, so the professional leave, while not counted as an absence, it still results in teachers being out of the classroom (Joseph et al., 2014). The resulting days missed could account for over 20 school days missed on average for some teachers throughout a school. For instance, in Marysville Public Schools in Maryland more than 81 percent of teachers missed more than 20 days of school during the 2016-2017 school year, numbers that include days taken for professional development. Just over 6 of the 20 days were spent on professional development days in this district. (Turner, 2017).
There is little doubt that the increase in teacher absences is evident to school districts across the country. As the Roll Call: Importance of Teacher Attendance states, “on average districts across the country offer 12.7 days of leave, Whether districts offered more or less days of leave many teachers still went over those days on average” (Joseph et al., 2014). Since this is a growing problem the unfortunate side effects will impact the most important commodity of all within a school system: the students.