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Chronically Absent Teachers

Although the school year is still new, it won't be long before the familiar pattern of teacher absenteeism appears ("1 in 4 U.S. teachers are chronically absent, missing more than 10 days of school," The Washington Post, Oct. 26).  The problem is most severe in rural areas and in some major cities, according to the U.S. Education Department's Office for Civil Rights.  For example, Cleveland reported that about 84 percent of its 2,700 teachers had excessive absences.  Las Vegas had more than half of its 17,000 teachers in that category. 

Yet the data are not surprising in light of the demands made on teachers.  Since 1998, teachers have been subjected to reforms unprecedented in educational history in this country.  Despite agreement that teachers are the most important in-school factor in learning, they were never consulted.  As a result, they began to experience stress, which manifests itself in the increased rate of absenteeism.

Even if a qualified substitute teacher can be found, students are shortchanged.  The best lesson plan is no match for instruction by the absent teacher.  I expect to see the situation getting worse as more and more is expected of teachers. Rather than wait until they are at the breaking point, I advise teachers to take a day off.  Doing so can sometimes head off a serious physical illness and burnout.  Yet I see nothing on the horizon that will enhance morale, which is vital in today's climate.

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