August is National Truancy Prevention Month. The definition of truancy is missing more than 15 days of school with unexcused absences, meaning the reason they didn’t attend wasn’t a reason recognized by the educational system. In the United States, 20 percent of high school students are considered truant.
Why does truancy happen?
There are many reasons a child may not attend school. Most people assume students don’t attend school because they hate it. This may be true, but what else could be happening? Many children live in circumstances that don’t support education and are considered at-risk. They may need to get a job to help support the family or stay home to care for younger siblings. They may be truant because they have a sick or injured parent, particularly when domestic violence is the norm in their home. Or they may not have a home. When a child lives on the street, in a car, a shelter or is couch surfing, it can be difficult to get to school. When they do come to school, they are often bullied because of the clothes they wear or their poor hygiene. Even when a child isn’t bullied, they may be so self-conscious of their condition, they don’t want other students to guess what’s happening in their life. It’s also possible, and perhaps even likely, that chronically abused students may not be permitted to go to school. Parents know that if their child’s injuries are reported to school officials, then it’s likely that someone from child protective services will be visiting them and they don’t want that to happen. When a child is being sexually abused, it may be too painful for them to sit in a wooden chair all day.
What can you do?
If you have students not attending for any of the above reasons, it’s unlikely you will be able to impact that students’ home life. However, you can make their experience at school a nice contrast. When a child lives in a deprived environment and you can make your classroom need-satisfying, they will at least try to get to school as often as they can.
And of course, it’s possible that a child really doesn’t like school, but why would that be the case? It’s important to look at the need that’s being met by their problematic behavior. If truancy is the behavior, then what might a child be trying to avoid by not coming to school? There are six basic reasons.
- Doesn’t feel safe in school.
- Doesn’t feel connected to anyone at school, students or adults.
- Doesn’t feel competent in their subjects.
- Is bored with the learning.
- Is frustrated with the rules and consequences they experience.
- Complains that school is no fun.
There are three things you, an employee of the educational system, can do to increase the likelihood a disengaged student will reengage, at least in your class. You can build relationships with all your students, whether or not you’re a teacher. Focus particularly on the ones who are often in trouble and the ones who seem to quietly fall between the cracks and walk like a shadow through the school halls. It’s easy to like the kids who are doing well in school. It’s much more challenging to like truant kids, particularly if you take their absences personally. I remember, in my high school, one person who was excellent at this was the school custodian. He was friendly with everyone and, consequently, no one ever gave him a hard time.
And if you are an educator, you can become the best educator you can possibly be by educating yourself about how to make learning fun and tie what you are teaching to something relevant in the lives of your students.
When you have a student who is violating school rules, prior to sending them out of the classroom for administrative discipline, consider the need underlying the behavior. Everyone, including children, have five basic needs. No matter what the behavior is, pleasant or disruptive, there will be one or more needs motivating it.
The needs are Safety & Security, Connection, Significance, Freedom and Joy. You may not know exactly what the need is, but you can make an educated guess. Then, see if you can help that student get that need met in a way that doesn’t interfere with you and other students meeting theirs. If it doesn’t work, try another need. These are the concepts that are taught in Glasser Quality Schools. Teachers, students and administrators alike enjoy being in school when it’s run with Choice Theory® psychology.
If you don’t think your school is interested in becoming a Glasser Quality School, you can take control of what you control—your classroom—and become a Glasser Quality School Teacher. Check out the Basic Intensive Choice Theory training here.