According to an October 2008 study from the Center for American Progress, the average teacher misses nine or 10 days per year, and on any given school day in the United States, about 5 percent of teachers aren't at work.
Excessive teacher absences can have serious repercussions for K12 education. The cost of hiring substitutes goes up, and in some districts, qualified substitutes are scarce. Worse, student progress and test scores suffer when teachers aren't around to present lessons, answer questions and facilitate classroom discussions.
With all of this in mind, your school system could look into methods of curbing teacher absenteeism. The following suggestions might help you as you delve into this process.
1. Gather Evidence and Get Buy-In
How do you create a solid plan for reducing employee absences? First, carefully analyze district-wide data: school-by-school attendance rates, recent trends, months and dates with especially high absentee levels, and so on. The school board should then debate and weigh a range of approaches.
Once the major strategies have been drawn up and specific goals identified, the board should seek approval from the groups that will be most impacted by those proposals, including parent organizations and the local teachers union.
2. Provide IncentivesYour school system might buy back teachers' sick days or offer modest financial rewards for a year of perfect or near-perfect attendance. In Carthage, Texas, for instance, teachers who go to work every day during a school year split a sum of $5,000. For such a program to be effective, it must be simple to understand, and administration officials need to explain it clearly to all staff members.
3. Have School Leaders Emphasize Attendance
Some educators simply don't realize the full importance of being present except in the event of sickness or an emergency. Instead, many teachers sincerely believe that their profession entitles them to "mental health days," which are days off that they can use to rejuvenate themselves. Indeed, some of them have never been explicitly encouraged to teach every day that they possibly can.
However, if a school's principal and department heads clearly and repeatedly articulate the value of teacher attendance, it will motivate many educators to stop missing days unnecessarily.
4. Make Calling in Sick Trickier
Further, you might have department heads and principals make a habit of speaking to teachers as soon as they return from absences. Even if those chats are brief and friendly, many teachers won't want to have them after nonessential days off.
5. Promote Healthy Practices
Obviously, less teacher sickness means fewer sick days. But how can you enhance the well-being of your staff members? Schools could offer exercise sessions, flu shot clinics, nutritious breakfast and lunch programs, and cholesterol and cardiovascular screenings. To alleviate stress, teachers could routinely get together in small groups to discuss challenges and brainstorm solutions, and new teachers could sit down with seasoned professionals to talk about their experiences.