Why My Kids Will Never Win A Perfect Attendance Award

I've had this one in my home in some form or fashion for almost twenty years. This MOVES me.

Look. The perfect attendance award at school is a sham. It is. There is no real accomplishment attached to being at school Every. Single. Day.

First of all, the probability of your kid making it through the school year without some kind of significant illness is akin to lottery odds. Therefore, a kid with perfect attendance in June will have literally poisoned the competition.

His or her teacher does not thank you. Trust me. I have met dripping snot students at the door of my classroom and refused them admittance. Especially the years when I was pregnant and cough syrup and Sudafed were out of my reach.

Oh no. You are not bringing that in here. To the nurse you go.

SARS aside, there is no real reason for kids to be at school every single day. After all, adults don’t go to work every single day, and school is waaaay more taxing for a kid’s brain than work is for an adult’s.

You think I’m crazy?

Kids don’t buy shoes online at school, and retirees and SAHMs are not the only reason that Cyber Monday has become the busiest shopping day of the year.

Just saying.

I come from a long line of skipping school for good reasons. Like Disneyland. Disneyland is the perfect reason to skip school. No one in their right mind goes to DLand on the weekends, or during the summer, so once or twice a year my brothers and I would wake up late to the smell of pancakes on a school day.

It could only mean one thing: Mickey shaped pretzels in our immediate future.

Vacation is another solid reason to miss school. One of Kate’s friends is in Maui this week. Her parents are brilliant. It’s the perfect time to hit Maui. Who wants to go to Hawaii in the summer? What would be the point of that?

Your kids’ teachers will only care if 1) It’s state testing time—but you know where we stand on that; opting out of testing to hit Washington DC makes all kinds of sense or 2) It’s finals time—and we agree there: DO NOT miss finals. It messes with the grading.

Sometimes, I keep my kids home just because. A few weeks ago we missed the Jog-A-Thon, which is a big deal at our school. Seriously—a lot of kids run ten miles or more at this thing. They raised $63,000.

It happened to fall on the same day as my dad’s 70th birthday, and he was in town. There was no way my kids were going to school that day, not when there was a birthday picnic to be had.

They will be checking out early the next two Fridays so that we can attend football games, one at Oregon State and one at Oregon. Gabe happens to be playing in the one at Oregon. That’s a great reason to miss school.

Come June, my kids will sit quietly while the Perfect Attendance kids are called up at the awards assembly. They’ll turn to find me in the crowd, like Gabe did last year, to give me a shrug and a smile. Or tell their friends, like Kate did, “That will never be me. I will never get perfect attendance. We have to miss school. It’s like a rule in our family.”

Yep. There are adventures to be had and we will be having them. No certificates required.


For the Rookies, On the First Day of School 2014-2015

For the rookies in 2015-2016!

There's nothing better than brand new school supplies!
There’s nothing better than brand new school supplies!

At the very core of education, in your own classroom, there is nothing like the magic of educating kids. Nothing. You see moments in a kid’s life, flashes of brilliance and frustration; you hear them laugh, you see them cry. You are mom, friend, sister; you are at once the coolest cat and the biggest bitch; you will love them, and have days where you could climb a mountain; you will hate them and have days where you wish it was still legal to smack them.

You will love their parents. You will hate their parents. You will see some beautiful souls and some souls bound for the deepest parts of hell. You will hear stories that make you believe in the human spirit, and stories that give you nightmares. Students will lie to your face; parents will lie to your face. One day, a student will tell you a truth so terrible that you will wish they had lied. You will help them while your heart is breaking inside.

You will want to save them. Then you will learn that some kids are not meant to be saved by you. And you will cry.

You will know you are on the right track when the question of your reputation results in fierce debate between the kids who love you and the kids who hate you. Change is hard for teenagers, just like for grown ups. When you push them, they’ll push back. Stay strong. I once had a student named Jerome revise a paper 9 times to get a B and when he did, he hung that thing proudly on the fridge. And didn’t speak to me for two weeks.

I was so proud of him.

You will make mistakes. Tons. There’s no way to talk to 200 kids a day and not say something stupid on a fairly regular basis. When you do, just apologize. They will respect you forever because no one ever apologizes to teenagers. Let them learn from you that apologies don’t make you weak, they make you honorable.

The kids–they will strip you down and make you see who you really are. Then, if you let them, they will make you better, even the ones who make you crazy first.

Maybe them most of all.

So best of luck. You’ll need it between principals trying to make quotas and veteran teachers with an ax to grind and an entire political system that likes to demonize your profession. But it’s not cliche that you are in charge of the future so you have to find a way to manage. You’ll want to quit. All of us wanted to quit sometime in that first year, usually in January or February.

But hang on.  I promise that by May you will feel much better.