As a Pre-K teacher, I have the unique opportunity to be one of the first educators to set the foundation for good attendance with parents and students. Since I am required to have an interview with each family and student before the school year begins, I take advantage of the interview to explain the attendance rules and expectations. I explain to parents that attendance is the basis of education for all students and that it is state law that they attend class. My campus, J.J. Pickle, hosts many recent immigrant families who often aren’t familiar with school procedures and laws pertaining to education. Reviewing policies with parents is a way to avoid confusion and unnecessary absences.
It can be challenging when parents believe that early childhood education is more like a daycare setting rather than an academic one, so they don’t see the problem with their children missing a few days. But I am proud to say that my classroom is academically rigorous — for four year olds. I have had students enter my class not knowing any letters, but they often leave reading by the end of year with significant gains in learning English.
One way I counter this belief is when an attendance issue arises with a student, I explain to parents the benefits of Pre-K and the significance of consistent attendance. For one, Pre-K students are able to get a head start on their academic careers at a time when their brain is still growing and they are able to absorb information in astonishing volumes. The oral language they develop at this time is a pre-reading skill that will help them with comprehension and building vocabulary in the future. I also share the negative effects of absenteeism and late arrival, such as falling behind in key academic material and not building the solid academic foundation for which Pre-K is designed.
Another challenge to attendance is that J.J. Pickle is a community school and most families live close enough to walk, so many families do not own cars, so when it rains they do not bring their children to school. I have remedied this situation by connecting families in my class that are neighbors to those who can carpool on rainy days. Many students and families have found this helpful.
When attendance issues arise it means having difficult conversations with parents, but I see myself, and all teachers, as the best line of defense against absenteeism and stopping bad habits early.
I stay focused on the attendance of my students because I know it is the first step in getting them to academic success. I start from the beginning of the year by building relationships with parents, communicating with them openly about their child’s attendance and other issues throughout the year, and I continually reinforce that their child’s education is my top priority, which is why I am relentless when it comes to making sure they attend school everyday.
Yza Rodriguez is a bilingual Pre-K teacher at J.J. Pickle Early College Prep in Austin, Texas, part of the Austin Independent School District. She was selected as her campus’ teacher of promise for the 2014-2015 school year.