I have a class of 31 students. There are about 5 to 10 of them absent during each meeting. Right now I am not enforcing attendance because some of them may have legitimate reasons to be absent and it's difficult to keep track of this every class. Also, I think a few students may indeed be able to learn from reading the textbook by themselves.

But on the other hand, some of the students who are absent performed quite poorly in the mid-term. So I wonder if my tolerance of absenteeism has an overall negative effect on students.

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    $\begingroup$ Such a hard question. I'm teaching classes online, and for the first time I'm doing a synchronous/asynchronous hybrid, meaning that I do zoom sessions, but only some of them come. The asynchronous students are a wide mix in terms of responsibility. It's frustrating. $\endgroup$
    – Sue VanHattum
    Feb 18, 2022 at 3:13
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    $\begingroup$ Is there something specific to mathematics education about this situation? Otherwise, Academia Stack Exchange might be a better place to ask this question. $\endgroup$
    – J W
    Feb 18, 2022 at 5:33
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    $\begingroup$ Is it the same 5-10 ppl absent each meeting, or a random, (different) 5-10 people absent each class? If it’s the same ppl then send them online class notes. Or Video the class so they can watch in their free time. If it’s different people each time then the best you can do is a thorough recap of previous lesson at the beginning of each lesson. $\endgroup$ Feb 23, 2022 at 9:18

1 Answer 1


I do not have a solution, but two points of view. Disregarding either is simplistic.

Good teachers have good attendance

In this perspective, it is your duty as a teacher to make the education so good that students want to attend. Maybe you are just lecturing, not engaging them, teaching at too low or high level?

A student responsibility to be there

In this perspective the teacher offers their expertise and knowledge, and the student can choose to make use of it or not. Some students lack the skills or the motivation to get through and you must learn to accept this. You can not save everyone. So, if the students choose to not attend, that is their choice as an adult. Who are you to critize them?

Complicating factors

There are all kinds of issues beyond the two named above. Effective teaching puts the learners outside their comfort zone, so good teaching is not always purely pleasant; it is engaging and does not hurt, but requires energy to participate in and puts one to test. The levels of participation requires and stress that students accept varies from person to person, so most likely the level you choose will not suit everyone.

There are also all kinds of habits and expectations in play. Students might see their position as one who sits in on lectures and absorbs knowledge, or as someone who is responsible for their own learning, or in a variety of other ways. These different positions interact with your teaching methods in various ways, leading to presence, absence, learning or not learning.

So all I can say at this point is good luck and try out various teaching methods and ways of organizing things.

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    $\begingroup$ Your first point is, I think, a little bit unreasonable. Think about the hundreds of millions of dollars expended to make "Avengers: Infinity War" appealing to a mass audience. Even so, there will be 10 to 20 percent of people who do not care for it. You will not hold a randomly selected audience in your sway purely through "engaging teaching techniques". $\endgroup$ Feb 18, 2022 at 11:59
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    $\begingroup$ Both of the points are unreasonable in their own way. I try to explain this lower down in the answer. It is just that sometimes I see either "good teacher takes care of it" or "student responsibility" as the totality of answer; I think one needs to include both to understand what is happening. $\endgroup$
    – Tommi
    Feb 18, 2022 at 15:26

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