No Such Thing as “Make-up Work”

If I had to choose the most misguided practice employed in U.S. schools, it would be that of requiring teachers to provide “make-up work” for students who miss a scheduled lesson.

Sometimes the absence is owing to illness, but often the absence is the result of a dental appointment, or an away game. Everyone pretends that such an assignment is the equivalent of having attended the class meeting. It isn’t.

In some situations, the absent student is simply given an assignment with brief written directions and page numbers. In others, the teacher is required to find time to give the student a boiled-down version of the missed lesson. In the first situation, the student is left to struggle with an imperfectly understood assignment. In the second, the teacher is robbed of time needed for other things in order to hurry through material that required 50 minutes the first time.

I object to make-up work, not only because it imposes on the teacher, but because it is an empty gesture that does nothing to make up for the learning opportunity missed by the student. Nothing that the teacher can convey to the student in a 10-minute “make-up” session can be the equivalent of a missed classroom presentation.

Teaching is performance art. No two lessons are exactly the same. Some will be more effective than others, but to obtain the pedagogical value of class discussion, the student must be present.

I was fortunate enough to teach for six years in a private school whose make-up policy was

The student who misses the lesson misses the homework.

I think that’s an excellent make-up policy.

Used as it should be, the assignment of homework is an integral part of a classroom lesson. It is the culmination of everything that has been presented by the teacher and discussed by the class. It is the student’s opportunity to practice the content of the lesson in solitude. Done correctly, the completed assignment indicates that the student has understood that day’s lesson. Done incorrectly, the assignment alerts the teacher to the need for further teaching.

Yes, students who must miss numerous class days may need outside help. There’s a resource for that: paid tutors.

2 comments to No Such Thing as “Make-up Work”

  • Brian

    October 12, 2010 at 10:34 am
    I am a former high school English teacher myself, and I have four kids in school right now–ages 6 through 12. I agree with Dr. Maddox and Amber’s comments. The practice of providing make-up lessons and work is both an unnecessary tax on and insulting to teachers. However, I think that students who have missed lessons should be allowed to turn-in independent practice from those lessons for a grade, but it should stop there. Teachers should be under no obligation to pull together any form of independent study materials for students who miss lessons. It doesn’t matter if the reason for the absence was deliberate or not. The problem is exacerbated by teachers who remind students to turn-in work from missed days and by students (or their parents) who request additional instruction or guidance in order for their student to complete the assignments. The message needs to be sent at the beginning of the school year by school administration: missed lessons do not obligate teachers to provide make-up instruction.

  • The concept is an insult to teachers. If the work could be done without the teacher, what is the point of having a teacher?

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