Teacher absenteeism: Are mental health days on the rise?

Teacher absenteeism can adversely affect students. (AP Images)

Teacher absenteeism can adversely affect students. (AP Images)

The AJC has an interesting piece this morning on absenteeism among metro Atlanta teachers. The story by education writer Ty Tagami and database specialist Kelly Guckian is subscriber only and will not appear online so I can’t share a link. But I can provide a summary.

The AJC analyzed metro Atlanta attendance data for the past three years and found that teachers in nearly all districts missed on average more than 10 days due to illness, training, personal leave or jury duty. Sickness was the most common cause.

The story examines whether “mental health” days are increasing because of class size, diminishing respect and increasing responsibilities and accountability.

“It used to be that teachers only worried about teaching,” said Connie Jackson, president of the Cobb County Association of Educators. “Now, they have to worry about paperwork, evaluations, test scores, data management, keeping your students happy and keeping your parents happy. There’s so much more on teachers, that I think it’s contributed to absences.”

The piece says that research shows that when a teacher misses school, students learn less. Research suggests that the impact of a teacher missing 10 days a year compared with one who has perfect attendance is like the difference between a new teacher and one with three to four years experience.

Here is a brief snippet of the story:

“Nationally, teachers are out one day a month” or about 10 days a year, said education researcher Raegen Miller, whose work on teacher absence is widely cited. “If in Georgia it’s more than that, that inevitably raises the question — what’s going on?”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution analyzed data reported by school systems to the Georgia Department of Education. The newspaper also used the state Open Records law to obtain figures on how much money each school district spent on substitute teachers.

Gwinnett County Public Schools, the largest system in Georgia, was the only large metro district to match the national average in each of the past three years. Elsewhere, though, the rates were higher. Last year, for instance, in Atlanta Public Schools and in Fulton and DeKalb counties, teachers were absent on average about 13 days. They were out 11 days in Cobb County.

Studies show a link between teacher absence and lower student test scores, especially in math — something that students, parents and educators have always known.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

208 comments Add your comment

Disgruntled

March 29th, 2012
5:03 am

As the average class size increases by 1 or 2 students, most don’t seem to take notice. However, the effect is not so subtle: class size average has gone from approximately 27 to 32 in the past few years. If each of these 5 students, per period, in a high school teacher’s day receives one minute of attention per day, that’s another 35 minutes per day or 2.5 hours of work per week for the teacher. But that’s just 1 minute per student. Can you grade a test or paper in one minute? Really, it’s more like 5 minutes per student per week, which is more like 12.5 hours more per week.

Wow, just added a day and a half of work per week, with frozen pay, furlough days, and how about those higher benefits costs, and districts like Gwinnett reducing contribution to pensions. I think I’d take a day off too, just to catch up on grading.

Misinformed

March 29th, 2012
5:33 am

Could we PLEASE have a news article or blog which analyzes down to the second what employees are doing in some career other than teaching???? Enough. What’s next? An AJC analysis of how many bathroom breaks teachers in different counties take and how they affect test scores?!?!? If individual employees have an attendance problem, I have no issue with it being addressed directly. Stop feeding the fire and making it sound like everything is some huge issue.

concerned

March 29th, 2012
5:38 am

Teachers are more stressed- as are great many of Americans these days, stress decreases the immune system and unfortunately, teachers are on the front lines of almost every childhood illness that floats through the hallways and classrooms. Teachers are also parents a great many of whom may be the the parent in the two income family that is deemed the most able who takes off from work- this shaky economy has many people nervous for keeping their job.
What most people don’t understand is that teachers having to take off work means having to do twice as much work before and after- no one I knew as a teacher ever wanted to take a day off because of that.

Peter Smagorinsky

March 29th, 2012
5:48 am

@Misinformed, I think that the reports of low morale and high absenteeism speak volumes to the effects of federal policies that treat teachers as though they’re bad children, and to the general consequences of blaming schools and teachers for not being able to meet the impossible demands now crushing their spirit. Thanks to Maureen for continuing to depict education in all its complexity, which goes against the policy grain of oversimplifying education in all regards.

Lee

March 29th, 2012
6:12 am

“The AJC analyzed metro Atlanta attendance data for the past three years and found that teachers in nearly all districts missed on average more than 10 days due to illness, training, personal leave or jury duty.”

Jury Duty? Training?

Since when do you consider those “absences”?

When my daughter was in 2nd grade, there was a Sped kid who was still in a diaper. He pooped in his diaper at least once or twice per day. The teacher would have to get someone to listen out for her room while she took him down to the Sped teacher to take care of it. Figure an hour per day dealing with this issue. An hour per day that the rest of the students are not receiving instruction. An hour per day that extropolates to about 25 days of lost instruction per year.

And I’m sure there are teachers who can quantify the amount of time spent dealing with the chronic behavior problems, non-English speaking students, etc, etc.

With regards to actual sick days, if my wife needs to leave school thirty minutes early in order to go to a doctor’s appointment, she has to take one-half day sick leave. Even though the school didn’t have to get a substitute teacher for that time. But that same principal will think nothing of requiring teachers to attend an after-hours function such as “reading night.”

Go figure…

NW GA Math/Science Teacher

March 29th, 2012
6:15 am

@ Dr. Smagorinsky. In my case, at least, it also speaks to the morale effects of administrators. I know that my attendance record is not as good this year as last – and I doubt my test results will be as outstanding as they were last year. We already know about the effect on our students and are not happy about it. I’m next REQUIRED to miss class to “learn” how to use an electronic response system that I use daily now. Folks clamoured for results on tests. I provided them – without cheating! So, they change the rules. Is this Calvin-Ball?

teach1

March 29th, 2012
6:29 am

I have been pulled for 3 entire days this year for training on core standards. I wonder how many days are required training. With only 2 planning periods a week and 3 furlough days (which yoused to be distric training days) the district is still requiring more and more time be taken from the classroom.

In our school I have been pulled for 2 “collab” sessions at 2 hours each -subs where hired for the day to cover and the lead teachers have been pulled for 2 hours for meetings on 3 different occaisions. IF administration sends the message that its ok to “do business” during student contact hours don’t you think teachers would begin to get the message and take a day to do their business as well. I know 2 teachers who took off days to get their evaluation portfolios together. Time has to come from somewhere.

teach1

March 29th, 2012
6:30 am

Oh and I have only taken 1 sick day this year due to a surgery that I was able to schedule up against a break so I could recover during the week I had off.

Sub

March 29th, 2012
6:37 am

I have never worked a job before subbing where you NEVER get a break like I do as a sub! Often when it is time for the students to go to specials, you are put into another classroom! As for the restroom breaks, most of the teachers that I know do not even get one of these during the day. Could you wait from 6:30 or earlier in the day until the kids get on the bus around 2? I think NOT! We also have to eat with the kids, not in a separate lunch room!! So if a teacher needs a mental health day, well then give it to them!

teacher&mom

March 29th, 2012
6:54 am

In my school a couple of LARTS teachers have taken personal leave days to catch up on grading essays and research papers. Eight furlough days (three years in a row), no teacher workdays, and class sizes over 30 have taken their toll.

Martina

March 29th, 2012
6:59 am

Most teachers I know, myself included, HATE to have to take a day because of all the planning involved. It’s not a job that you just walk away from your desk and return to find things as you left them. I was absent last Friday – I had to stay extra hours earlier in the week writing my next week’s lesson plans, organizing my plans in detail for the sub, leaving plenty of materials out and making sure I had them in an easy-to-find place. Then I went in Sunday afternoon to collect the spelling tests, papers, etc. that I brought home to grade that evening so I wouldn’t have it all waiting for me Monday morning. THEN I had the note from the sub and had the address the “issues” that came up during the day – behavior, lost items, parent concerns. Believe me, it’s a HUGE deal to have to be out, so if we take a day it’s necessary!

Sage

March 29th, 2012
7:02 am

And the problem is?

jezel

March 29th, 2012
7:06 am

Talk, talk, talk, talk……All this is. Get serious about education in Ga. Put some money where your loud mouth is. If you say that the money is not there….then find it…and stop running down the teachers. All this “grand standing” very tired. You are not fooling everyone.

Jane

March 29th, 2012
7:07 am

Today’s teachers needed to start in the 70’s when all preparation, planning, and grade calculation had to be done without the benefit of computers or even calculators. Parent communication had to be done face-to-face or by telephone, and there was usually one phone in a public setting to be used by several teachers. However, you could develop your lesson plans based on a general curriculum and this made it so much more fun to teach!

morgan

March 29th, 2012
7:13 am

@Lee – From the student’s perspective, it doesn’t matter if the teacher is absent due to illness, jury duty, training or a funeral…the teacher isn’t there. From an administrative point of view, I would like to see personal days separated from training and jury duty. Jury duty is out of the control of both teacher and principal, and training is generally scheduled by the principal.

My child had a 5th grade teacher who missed at least 15 days. Some days were for actual illness, some were for various trainings, one or two were so she could take her child to college for the first time,and there was a funeral for a family member, Most of those were unfortunate absences as far as the students were concerned. However the 2 days she took for long weekend so she could take her kids to Disney when it wasn’t crowded really seemed a bit much.

Follow the Course

March 29th, 2012
7:24 am

Simply the results of the “furlow” days … the school system can “take” … and conversely, so will I.

Entitlement Society

March 29th, 2012
7:41 am

OK folks, ENOUGH SAID! Did teacher1 really write “yoused to be”? I think that explains volumes about the quality of teachers we have out there in the government system. Yikes. No wonder the kids aren’t learning.

One who is Leaving

March 29th, 2012
8:11 am

As a teacher who had decided that anything corporate has to be better than this, keep this is mind: We are treated as failures no matter how well our students do, we are expected to move mountains with severely outdated technology and little resources, and we are kept to a higher stander than any normal human being. There’s scientific proof that negative reinforcement trains us to achieve lower and lower results. If you expect us to fail, what incentive do I have to try to do better? A police officer has days off, the President of the US goes to Camp David (or Hawaii) — I deserve my *contracted* sick leave.

AJC is not Credible

March 29th, 2012
8:11 am

@Morgan:
I am sure you would have done the same thing for your kids…she is a parent too…I think parents forget that teachers are human and may have kids too!

iTeach

March 29th, 2012
8:15 am

It takes more time and effort to plan for a substitute (lesson plans for each class, copies, making sure your sub folder is accurate and complete) than it is to stay in school!

Also, what about weddings, funerals, religious holidays, jury duty, other “duty days” mandated by the principal/department chair, or extracurricular activities and coaching? I have a feeling that the system averages are high because they are lumping all absences together, instead of separating duty days/bereavement/jury duty from sick and personal absences.

Although, I’m sure GM will say that we should never take off because we have vacations (because apparently teachers can only “have a life” during summer break)!

carlosgvv

March 29th, 2012
8:18 am

The bottom line from so many of these comments: Why would anyone want to be a public school teacher?

Entitlement Society

March 29th, 2012
8:31 am

@carlosgvv – for me the bottom line is why would anyone want to send their children to government schools filled with teachers who have such poor attitudes and poor grammar?

[...] Teachers in metro Atlanta school districts missed on average more than 10 school days per year due to illness, training, personal leave or jury duty. (AJC) [...]

Joy in Teaching

March 29th, 2012
8:41 am

I’ve missed 7 days this year. Six were due to personal illness (was in the hospital for 3) and one was to go watch my nephew graduate from basic training. I really need to take a day off to grade essays for my 120 students, but I feel as if I’m being watched for missing so many days already.

carlosgvv

March 29th, 2012
8:43 am

Entitlement Society

I imagine most people would send their children to private schools if they could afford it.

Cliff Claven

March 29th, 2012
8:45 am

Entitlement Society,

That’s great that you can classify thousands of people with poor grammar because one person on a message board made a mistake.

Until you’ve been in a classroom as a teacher for an extended period of time please don’t act like our job is easy. And before you spout about working in the real world, been there, done that, come up with something else to complain about.

Thomas

March 29th, 2012
8:47 am

The Eastside school system where I sub at has taken teachers out during the month of March to have them attend 1/2 day sessions discussing how to teach and deal with poor and minority students.
This county has lost almost all students where the household can afford to send them to private schools. This hemorrage will continue. From my perspective violence has skyrocketed in the classroom (especially middle schools ) with the administrators hiding these situations and not alerting unsuspecting substitutes that yes they have kids in their classroom who have been kicked out for bringing pellet guns to school ,for being arrested for assualt , for attacking parapros. The list of crimes is unimaginable to the nieve outsider who thinks teachers and substitute adults can work miracles

Parent

March 29th, 2012
8:49 am

We reward children for perfect attendance because It has been shown that nothing beats actually attending school. Maybe we should start giving a similar reward to teachers. I would pony up $100 if my child’s teacher managed to win “perfect attendance.”

I understand that teachers are people too. They have lives and families that come before career. On a personal note my daughters teacher missed the first 8 weeks of school for maternity leave. Great for her and her family. Pretty dang horrible for her class. They had 4 different subs and on some days no sub at all (3rd grade.) Now it is CRCT test prep and review time and SURPRISE! Turns out the class pretty much learned nothing over that time and she is having to teach it all plus what they are supposed to be learning now.

The school year is under 180 days. Not a single month goes by without a holiday long weekend. Is it really that hard to show up for work? Sure the pay sucks and the kids can be awful but was that some surprise? Is that not explained while becoming certified?

Entitlement Society

March 29th, 2012
8:52 am

Seriously, anyone typing “yoused to be” doesn’t know proper English and shouldn’t be in a classroom (unless it’s as a remedial grammar student). “yoused to be” is NOT a typo. I have a child who spent one miserable year in APS before we saw the light and was subjected to poor grammar, both oral and written, by a kindergarten teacher, so yes I can speak from experience. It is appalling that these teachers can’t use proper English.

A Conservative Voice

March 29th, 2012
8:52 am

Sounds like another very good reason for all Public Schools to go “On-Line”. Folks, what you have doesn’t seem to be working too good……wait, I’ve got an idea…….’ELIMINATE THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION” and that idiot, Arne Duncan. The learning process would improve dramatically and immediately under “State Control”. I know, I know, that would eliminate jobs; however, as we see everyday, those people aren’t doing their jobs anyway, so it’s a “Win, Win” move……. :)

Entitlement Society

March 29th, 2012
8:57 am

Amen, A Conservative Voice.

Cliff Claven

March 29th, 2012
8:59 am

Parent

Douglas County tried that (although they may still have it since I left but I doubt it with budget cuts). It didn’t make much of a difference.

As for long weekends every month, if that was true there would be less absences. I would like to see the statistics for absences of school systems with balanced schedules vs those with traditional schedules.

EduKtr

March 29th, 2012
9:03 am

The National Education Association and its local chapters — the Georgia Association of Educators (GAE) and the Cobb County Association of Educators (CCAE) are cash cows for the Democrat Party. And as such, they are the groups the AJC prefers to quote (and thereby promote) in its education stories.

Oppressed Teacher

March 29th, 2012
9:07 am

@ Parent

Oh my…your daughter’s teacher missed 8 weeks due to having a baby? What on earth are these teachers doing having children? It should be in a teacher’s contract that they refrain from sex or procreating. Oh wait…it was back in the 1880s. (Where is my sarcasm font?)

Obviously, the school system should have had a certified teacher in place for her maternity leave and that is an ADMINISTRATIVE ISSUE, not the classroom teacher’s.

Cliff Claven

March 29th, 2012
9:09 am

Entitlement Society

Again, you’re labeling all teachers because of one or two people.

eric1997

March 29th, 2012
9:14 am

@EduKtr – CCAE endorsed Nathan Deal…. Cash cow for the Democrats? Several republicans received GAE’s endorsement for the General Assembly. Only one Republican has spoken to the NEA that I know of and that was Mike Huckabee a few years ago. It’s hard to get an endorsement if you won’t talk to the endorsers.

@Parent…I know DeKalb used to have an incentive program for teachers with regards to attendance, but along with other financial benefits, tax sheltered annuities, for example, it was eliminated due to the great recession.

Two-faced policy for APS

March 29th, 2012
9:18 am

Atlanta Public Schools has a two-faced policy. For students, if the child misses 10 days of school, the social worker makes a visit to the house and teh parents can be fined but for APS teachers, missing school is the norm according to the AJC.
Time and again, we hear teachers on this blog they cannot get kids to pass the CRCT test because the students miss to many days of school, yet, again, teachers are missing school.
All the training days are ridiculous. Teachers in my kids’ school were removed from the classroom so that they cuold go to Promethean board training — a whole day for all teachers. This is ludicrous. That gizmo is a worthless, piece of time-consuming expensive crap and to take all teachers out of their classroom all day long to get training on it, is outrageous.
I think we need to not pay teachers for their sick days. When I get sick and don’t work, I don’t get paid. The same is true for many Americans like me who don’t have benefits of a soft, government job.
Gm

d

March 29th, 2012
9:18 am

Well, I will be using my unpaid break next week to finish grading essays. At least I can do that in shorts and a t-shirt in my living room since I can’t afford a real vacation :)

d

March 29th, 2012
9:21 am

@GM – even when I worked in corporate, I earned a half a sick day a month. That is not an unusual benefit. If you don’t earn sick time, I suggest you look for another position with a company that does offer it. It is to the benefit of most companies to have healthy workers and let the sick ones stay at home without worrying about losing pay – otherwise they go in sick and contaminate the whole office!

Oppressed Teacher

March 29th, 2012
9:22 am

YOu make a sarcastic comment to parent about a teacher going out for maternity leave but here’s the thing. Teachers are off for ten weeks in the Summer. It makes common sense to plan pregnancies so children are born in the Summer. You’re right, it isn’t the 1880s anymore and planned pregnancies can happen. I realize there are exceptions for some who need fertility treatments that won’t correspond to planning but I know many women who are teachers want to plan their pregnancies so they get the last two months of school off and then keep on going through the Summer.
GM

Ridiculous 3 days

March 29th, 2012
9:24 am

This is ridiculous “I have been pulled for 3 entire days this year for training on core standards. ”
Core standards should be trained in the Summer BEFORE schools open. GM

EduKtr

March 29th, 2012
9:25 am

@eric1997: The members of CCAE pay more than $130 in yearly dues to the National Education Association—and most of the rest of their dues go to The Georgia Association of Educators. Both groups have endorsed every Democrat nominee for president in our lifetimes. Never once a Republican.

And over 90% of all political cash from the NEA goes to Democrats.

d lives in la la land

March 29th, 2012
9:27 am

Listen to d in la la land….”@GM – even when I worked in corporate, I earned a half a sick day a month. That is not an unusual benefit. If you don’t earn sick time, I suggest you look for another position with a company that does offer it.”
Corporations aren’t the same anymore and they rarely hire employees. They hire short term contractors and then let them go. Benefits and pensions are a thing of the past and so are sick days and vacation days. Sure, it used to be that you got a job with a company and then retired with a gold watch and a pension. It ain’t that way anymore….except for government employees, that is.
GM

d lives in la la land

March 29th, 2012
9:27 am

Listen to d in la la land….”@GM – even when I worked in corporate, I earned a half a sick day a month. That is not an unusual benefit. If you don’t earn sick time, I suggest you look for another position with a company that does offer it.”
Corporations aren’t the same anymore and they rarely hire employees. They hire short term contractors and then let them go. Benefits and pensions are a thing of the past and so are sick days and vacation days. Sure, it used to be that you got a job with a company and then retired with a gold watch and a pension. It ain’t that way anymore….except for government employees, that is.
GM

d lives in la la land

March 29th, 2012
9:27 am

Listen to d in la la land….”@GM – even when I worked in corporate, I earned a half a sick day a month. That is not an unusual benefit. If you don’t earn sick time, I suggest you look for another position with a company that does offer it.”
Corporations aren’t the same anymore and they rarely hire employees. They hire short term contractors and then let them go. Benefits and pensions are a thing of the past and so are sick days and vacation days. Sure, it used to be that you got a job with a company and then retired with a gold watch and a pension. It ain’t that way anymore….except for government employees, that is.
GM

d lives in la la land

March 29th, 2012
9:27 am

Listen to d in la la land….”@GM – even when I worked in corporate, I earned a half a sick day a month. That is not an unusual benefit. If you don’t earn sick time, I suggest you look for another position with a company that does offer it.”
Corporations aren’t the same anymore and they rarely hire employees. They hire short term contractors and then let them go. Benefits and pensions are a thing of the past and so are sick days and vacation days. Sure, it used to be that you got a job with a company and then retired with a gold watch and a pension. It ain’t that way anymore….except for government employees, that is.
GM

Cliff Claven

March 29th, 2012
9:30 am

d lives in la la land

It wasn’t that great the first time you posted it.

eric1997

March 29th, 2012
9:33 am

@EduKtr – Show me a pro-public education Republican and he/she gets my vote. I don’t care about party. I care about a strong public education system for all children in this country. That is what NEA supports. Look at their webpage nea.org – I doubt you’ll see “Hey, we give all our money to Democrats” anywhere on there. If you look, however, at the platform for candidates running as a Democrat, you’ll usually see strengthen our public schools, too often (but not always, fortunately) Republicans are pushing for vouchers and other anti-public education initiatives. It’s time people went beyond party and started looking at what an individual is actually saying. As a side note, no one is forcing anyone to join any professional organization, so why does this constantly need to be brought up in this forum?

shame on georgia

March 29th, 2012
9:34 am

I am currently attempting to teach 32 students while hyperventilating from stress. At the same time, I am packing to leave the county. Georgia’s uninformed politicians win. I QUIT.

Tonya C.

March 29th, 2012
9:35 am

GM:

You have one crappy gig. I have been in the workforce since I was 18, and even my lowly retail gigs paid for sick time or gave me vacation/PTO. The practice of providing those fringe benefits came from PRIVATE industry and still exist if you work for a company worth a darn.

Teachers are in first-line contact with germs and viruses every single day. The environment could take even the mightiest man down. As for jury duty, what can they do? Government-mandated and being a teacher is not an excuse. Training I could see going either way, because some tranings are very valuable in improving the educator and others (usually BOE required ones) are a waste of time.