Educational news often talks about student truancy as an epidemic, a growing threat to student progress. But there’s another kind of absenteeism doing its own quiet harm – teachers. In Nevada, it’s a serious and growing problem.
According to a 2016 study by Education Week Research Center, about 25% of teachers nationwide miss 10 or more school days a year, or approximately one day a month. In Nevada, that percent climbs to nearly 50%. In any job, missing a day a month could potentially be a big deal. But a 2007 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research in Harvard University suggests that class grades suffer noticeably if a teacher is absent more than 5 days a semester. Substitutes, no matter how effective, can’t keep up a continuity of lessons or build helpful teacher-student relationships, and each day a teacher misses is a massive disruption to a classroom.
In Nevada, this is made worse by a massive teacher shortage. Few qualified substitutes are even available, meaning that when a teacher takes a day off for any reason, their class is likely to be left with a non-teacher supervisor–and nothing at all gets learned that day.
While it’s important that teachers are able to take sick leave and personal time – anyone working with children is prone to frequent illness – teachers in general are more likely to take sick or personal leave than employees in nearly any other career.
Right now, the only checks on teacher absenteeism are the policies and committees of their individual districts. Principals and superintendents bear the onus of keeping track of their own teachers’ attendances and watching for abuses of the system.
The balance needed is a fine line. Teachers need time to take care of their own needs as much as students need consistency. Perhaps the answer is in restructuring the school week or the school year, but for now, it is simply important to follow the advice we give every student: do your best to show up every day you can.