Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Anxious and Absent

It seems that this semester I have a surprisingly large number of students who are absent a lot for anxiety issues.  I think I don't quite get it, don't quite really understand how difficult their level of anxiety is.  I just want to say, "get your rear in gear and get to class."  But I don't, because I think their issues are way more difficult than I comprehend.

I admit I've sort of lost track of how often their absences are self-reported anxiety.  And how often they're absent without saying anything to me about it.

I have a fairly strict absence policy in my syllabus.  Three unexcused (like official excuses) are okay, and then starting with number four there's a grade penalty.  But I can't figure out how to handle the anxious students when I think they're probably anxious even if they don't email to tell me that.

And what about the other student who've missed classes?  How do I handle them?

And the "I don't feel good" students who miss more than three?  I'm not going to tell students they feel good; how could I?  But I'm also not especially sympathetic about hangovers. 

And then there's the depression problem.  One student told me they were depressed because it was nearing the anniversary of the death of a loved one.  I can see that might make things difficult.  But I really don't know what to do if the person's absent a bunch.

We have presentations around here to help us understand when students have mental health problems, and to try to convince us to be sympathetic and helpful.  But they never really get to what would actually be helpful.  (One of the folks who came to talk to us suggested that it would be a radical new idea to give students a couple of days when they could not come to class if they weren't feeling well; but the three unexcused absences thing is something people were doing back in the bronze age when I was a student.  So not really new or radical.)

I'm no counselor, but I do try to convince students to make an appointment.  And when they tell me nothing's open for three or four weeks?  What do I do?

I need to have a better sense of when what a student needs is to be told to get their rear in gear and when they need something else. 

And I wonder how they're going to manage with a job?  I can't imagine my employer would be especially sympathetic if I suddenly started taking days and days off because I'm not feeling well or am anxious.  I'd run out of sick leave and then?  (My colleagues are amazingly good at stepping up and filling in for folks who are ill or have family responsibilities.  But I think patience would run thin for anxiety or depression problems.)