His/her boss won't be speechless.
Is the student Latin@? The one-year anniversary is indeed significant for many.
Pardon a second reply. I was speaking from my own cultural views (and neglected to add that if the student is not local, s/he may want or be expected to travel home for the mass). Pardon me too for not asking if the student is "Asian," for many Asian cultures have ceremonies on the "death anniversary" as well.
Ohhhh. Said student is Latin@. But I have lived in this culture for 25 years, and taught in it for 15, and this is definitely a first.I am accustomed to having students miss class to take grandparents to doctor appointments, watch siblings, and go out of town for Holy Week. I guess one can never know everything about a given culture until the situation arises. Thank you, and now I feel kind of bad for being snarky. -- Agnes
Not that this isn't frustrating, but there might be specific religious and/or cultural rituals to be performed on the day (none in my tradition, but I vaguely recall there are some in at least some branches of Judaism). I guess this brings up the question of how much, in an increasingly multicultural world, our students (and we) should explain. I'm generally on the side of preferring minimal information (okay; I'll take your word for it that you really can't be here; how are you going to make up the work, preferably in advance, and minimize the impact, if any, on other students, and maybe even me?) But if deeply held values of some sort are involved, a brief explanation may make sense. Of course that puts those from less-familiar traditions in the position of having to explain (all the more so because mainstream American culture has preserved very few rituals surrounding death), but in not that much time, there's going to be much less of a mainstream, and we're all going to have to be explaining ourselves, the values we hold, and the choices we make based on those values, to each other (and that, of course, is precisely what's upsetting some people, rabidly in some cases). This overly-long comment brought to you by someone who, in grad school, told a then-rising now quite famous visiting professor that she'd be skipping a seminar in which she had a scheduled presentation (of the routine beginning-discussions-on the-assigned-readings sort) because she needed to accompany her father to make funeral arrangements for her recently-deceased grandmother (this was in the days before email, so I must have left a phone message or mailbox note). I'm still not sure what the proffie thought of this, but I can imagine, and in retrospect she was considerably less warm in her approach to me after that. What I failed to explain is that a sibling and I were my grandmother's sole living immediate relatives (our mother, her daughter, died when we were young), and I'd been managing her care and finances for several years. It was my reality; I'd been living it for some time; it didn't occur to me just how far it deviated from the average, or that the professor would base her interpretation of my decision on the average. Nor did I know that people used supposedly-dead grandmothers as an excuse. I couldn't imagine doing that; grandparents were a key source of stability in my upbringing, and lying about their deaths was unthinkable. So sometimes a dead grandma really is a dead grandma. And sometimes she's an excuse. And all of that makes life more complicated for overworked proffies, who have to try to tell the difference, or at least deal fairly with students who may well be proffering the same excuse, in very similar ways, based on very different backstories. Aargh.
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Looks as though we were writing at the same time! And Judaism has some similar ceremonies. I will add this: students know when those ceremonies are--and I ask them to make arrangements at the start of a semester and not the day before.
And it looks like TPP had somewhat similar (if more compact) thoughts to mine. It sounds like this anniversary is significant in a number of cultural traditions. That makes sense; psychologists will tell you that many people experience various sorts of psychological disturbance around the anniversary of a death, even a long-ago one, even if they don't consciously remember the date, or notice its approach.
Indeed! And now we just did it again. And good point on the non-surprising timing. I suppose that's another line to add to the syllabus, and could be lumped in with general responsibility to be aware of, or at least check in with parents about, such family and/or religious obligations at the beginning of the semester. Students tend to leave it to their parents to remind them about this sort of stuff, rather than being aware of liturgical and family calendars themselves. Taking responsibility for such things is part of adulthood, and there's a sensitive way to point that out that covers everything from religious holidays to family weddings to death anniversaries. Actual deaths and the associated rituals are, of course, harder to plan for.
I'll add (hopefully not concurrently with you) that dealing with student excuses is significantly more difficult when there are more students to teach with less of my time spent teaching. If I taught a couple of small classes with no other research obligations, I could craft an alternate assignment of equal difficulty (but not as straightforward as a make-up test) when a student missed an exam. Not a big problem at all. When you teach 400 students and teaching is only a third of your job, you need to be more harsh just to keep everything under control.
Thanks all for the input. I was unaware of the importance of such anniversaries, even though I've lived in these parts for a long, long time. I guess my hackles were raised as I thought about my own experiences. When I was in a different career and dealing with a parent dying of cancer 1200 miles away, my boss had a fit when I scheduled a flight home on a workday, despite his protestation that I should fly home on a day off when fares were higher. I had to deal with a lot of heavy stuff from a distance and managed to get my work done. I guess I worry about students who have these types of reasons for not coming to class and whether their future bosses will be equally empathetic/understanding.-- Agnes
I would buttress the suggestion made earlier in this thread by TPP that for some cultures these anniversaries are very important, that's fine, but what is not fine is expecting this to excuse someone from a classroom activity/evaluation without proper notice. Most universities have religious accommodation notice periods of several weeks in advance, and I would think that these anniversary-type ceremonies would fall into the realm of a religious observance and should therefore be covered by all the policies that govern religious observances.
I think Prof P articulates the reasonable compromise position: yes, such absences can be excused, but since they easily allow advance notice, it's also reasonable to require it. I've got a pretty comprehensive statement on my syllabus requiring advance notice/planning for everything from athletic to family obligations. The wildcard is, indeed, dealing with situations where a family member (or the student) is actually sick or dying (or expecting -- babies and the potential complications associated with them are pretty unpredictable, too). In that case, I have no problem being more sympathetic and flexible than Agnes' boss, precisely because I think the boss, out of human decency, should have been more sympathetic, too (but many aren't, and not all professions allow such flexibility, so an ability to roll with the punches, decide when stepping away from school/professional obligations is truly necessary, and explain one's reasoning clearly and firmly when it is, is a useful skill, and there's no harm in helping our students develop it through things like syllabus warnings and gentle questioning about possible alternatives to missing a crucial class activity).
I "grade" on attendance only because I believe participation is important, and attendance is one (imperfect, partial) indicator of participation, one that is both objective and attainable by shy or socially-anxious students. (I also have a more subjective component.) I have a fairly liberal attendance policy--if you attend at least 90% of class sessions you get 100% attendance credit, and the proportion goes down from there to a certain cut-off, at which point they get 0%. I tell students these are not "freebies" absences, and that they should keep them in reserve for those times when...life comes up. I also emphasize that they EARN points for attendance, as opposed to losing points for absences, and that they can't earn points when they are not there. I do make some allowances for officially excused absences above and beyond the 10%, but, let's put it this way: if I have a student who has cancer and misses half the classes, I am absolutely going to be sympathetic and as helpful as I can be, but they are not going to get attendance credit for all those missed classes. Rather, I am going to recommend that they seek a medical withdrawal or accept their attendance grade. The student in the original post knew well in advance about this event, and--if Agnes's policy is anything like mine--s/he should have made sure in advance that this counted toward her "life comes up" absences.
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