Stress-Free System for Absent Students

Absent students were the bane of my existence as a new teacher. I could not, for the life of me, figure out a system that made anything easier when it came to having work ready for students once they came back to school from being absent. I teach three grade levels (7, 8, & 12) and five different classes a day, so keeping up with absent work was rapidly becoming a nightmare.

A close friend of mine suggested that I just keep a list of kids that are absent on a Post-It, then at the end of each day, I had to remember to gather their materials, and write down instructions for what to do. The problem with this was that it placed all of the responsibility on me. I had to be diligent about keeping track of which students came back to school the next day (or later) and provide them with their work. This was an added chore at the beginning of class when I needed to be settling students down to begin their five-minute Journal Write. I had to find a solution that allowed students to be in control of collecting their work when they were absent.

So, I created Absent Work Bins. Each student would have their own folder in my classroom into which I would place any and all of the work they missed while they were out! On the day of their return, it was their responsibility to come to my class before school started to collect everything from their folder. If they needed to stay after school to make up any lessons, it was stated on their While You Were Out slip. If you don’t want to make one, I provide my own free version of these handouts here.

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Because I teach three grade levels, I needed to keep each grouping of folders separate from each other. I purchased these plastic crates for their durability and easiness to wash if any middle school gunk gets inside!

There are other options for keeping hanging file folders organized, but these ones were cute and matched my room decor. I then purchased hanging file folders, one for each of my students. The ones I chose were inexpensive and durable, which is what you’re looking for when creating this system – you want it last for a while.

I chose to also label each folder myself (blame it on my OCD) using adorable tab labels I found in Wal-Mart. I chose a simple, smaller size plastic tab because I have close to one hundred students. You can determine what size tab is appropriate for your classroom! These are the exact tabs I used.

Use a permanent marker to label the tabs for ease of reading, as pen does not work as well as you would hope (clearly, I’m speaking from experience here).

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Absent Work Bins

I have two sections of English 7, two sections of English 8, and one section of English 12. Each section was given its own color hanging file folder (English 7, Period 1 folders are all blue. English 7, Period 2 folders are all red, etc) so that students going to find theirs knew right where to look. My senior class was mix-matched in color because I only have one section for English 12. On the wall behind the Absent Work Bins, I cut out the grade level number using fancy scrapbook paper I had in my home. The students were already familiar with this system from my Homework Bins, so I decided to stay consistent!

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Homework Bins

After you’ve labeled all of your folders, sectioned them in a way that makes sense for your students, then you must find a great location for them in your classroom. I placed mine on a counter right near the door this year. Students pop in, check their folder, and head back out. You must explicitly teach this system to your students so that they are comfortable with getting into their folder without having to ask for your permission first.

This system relieved an enormous amount of stress off of me. I no longer had to remember who missed class, how many days they were gone, and what assignments I needed to get around for them. Every day after school I check which students were absent, gather their missed work, and fill out a While You Were Out slip. I file the work into the student’s folder and don’t think about it again.

This system will ONLY work if you consistently put their work into their folders on the day they are absent. If you make a habit of forgetting to put the work in the folders, students will start to become confused; they may believe that they didn’t miss anything and not just that their teacher forgot to place the work in their folder!

If you choose to implement this into your classroom routines, please send me pictures of your final set-up! I love to see the finished products!

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