For the past week, I’ve been drowning in a sea of tissues and medicine cups.
I’m no stranger to sickness. Growing up with parents who both have an autoimmune disorder, I thought it was normal for people to get so sick every winter that they’d wind up bedridden or in the hospital. I myself had pneumonia five times before I even turned 11.
And it didn’t stop there. I started getting the flu every winter in middle school and running fevers so high that I hallucinated. My mom would get up every few hours to take my temperature and make sure I got a dose of Ibuprofen or Tylenol, whichever’s turn it was since I needed both to keep my fever low enough not to, well kill me, frankly.
Since I was about 14 years old, I’ve had a better handle on my health. Mostly, at least. Between learning to change my eating and sleeping habits and trying to manage my stress better, I’ve been able to conquer most winters with little more than a head cold. Still, in the last decade, a season or two has gotten away from me. This year has been one of those years, in a bigger way than ever before.
Given my checkered medical history, I’m pretty used to dealing with the complications and consequences of being sick. Not only do I know how to keep my fever below 104 degrees, but I know how to play catch-up with my school work.
K-12 playing make-up with school work was simply a matter of communicating with teachers—something my parents were legally tasked with—and producing a note from a doctor. The two elements together unlocked the gates to the kingdom of take-home work. While my peers labored healthily under fluorescent lights, I laid on my mom’s couch at home and tackled the same work, and took home the same above-average grades as usual.
The process isn’t so simple in college. I now pay for every single class that I take and I’m a grown adult, yet suddenly for the first time in my life I’m in a position of catching flak for or losing a percentage of my grade because of missing school when I’m sick.
Don’t get me wrong; there are a lot of professors here on campus who, formal attendance policy or not, will be accommodating and compassionate human beings if you just communicate with them. However, there are just as many (if not more) who seem to get some sick satisfaction from holding fast to tyrannical tenants of attendance that leave no room for people like me who can’t always be in class but who could get the work done just as well anyways with a little accommodation in the form of some understanding.
I know there are a lot of students who lie and take advantage of kind teachers. But in my mind, if a student can produce adequate work and demonstrate a working knowledge of the material without being in class, it shouldn’t generally matter that they’re not there or why anyway (there are exceptions, times when I think attendance is imperative, but that’s less often than more).
In any case, the demand for physical attendance by professors is hurting students whose circumstances make a traditional educational experience impossible. Attendance is a really important and beneficial part of the learning process, but it isn’t inherently essential.
Students shouldn’t be hindered from succeeding and earning the same good grades as their peers solely because of a lack of face-time in a classroom.