In my experience of teaching in two of Rotorua's secondary schools, there were many different reasons my students would miss days of school.
I started thinking about this when reading this week that school attendance is at an all-time low in the Bay of Plenty and Waiariki regions, according to the Ministry of Education's latest Schools Attendance Survey.
In some schools, teachers and management battle predictable issues and in others they are more complex.
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I've had students miss school because they are representing their sport at a national or international level competing for weeks on end.
I've had students miss school to stay home and look after their younger siblings or family members, because the adult in the house is either working or in no state to care for their dependants.
I've had students go on extended overseas holiday that are a lot cheaper for families when they are not taken in the school holidays when airline and accommodation prices skyrocket.
Students have also missed school because they are hungry, have no uniform or because they have their period and can't afford to care for themselves.
Students miss school because their parents are at work and have no clue they are home wagging, they miss school to hang out with older friends or explore relationships for the first time without parents around.
Students miss school to cover shifts at their part-time jobs. Sometimes, because they need the money and sometimes because management places expectations on the students to work, even though they know full well these students should be in school.
Students have missed school because they party too hard in the weekend. One of my repeated sayings on a Monday morning used to be "if you can't handle your weekend and be able to come to school on Monday morning fully functioning, then you shouldn't be partying all weekend long."
I've lost count the amount of times I've said that over the years.
Students prioritise other external factors over their education as well. And many parents enable them to do so. When you are dealing with irregular attendance or wagging and experience a parent who just accepts it or signs it off as explained, there is little the school can do to combat the problem.
Attending school is compulsory by New Zealand law. Parents can be prosecuted if their children are truant from school. But how many parents have actually been charged? Does this law even help?
Parents try to be their children's best friends. Parents who have had their own bad experiences at school place little or no emphasis on education and use it as a transient place to send their kids when they feel like it. This, in my experience, has proven to be ineffective because it just further escalates the problem of explaining absences away.
Students are still missing school and still missing out.
Illness, injuries, doctors, dentists, physio and specialist appointments all take students out of class.
Laziness, sleeping in or wanting to sleep all day after being up all night on video games, social media or watching entire series of TV programmes are all also contributors to poor attendance.
As a teacher planning lessons and content for each day can be problematic when there are always students absent. Often the same students will continually miss lessons making it frustrating for teachers and other students having to repeat work or wait while others catch up.
This in turn places stress and anxiety on the student who has been absent, as they struggle to catch up, more worried about what others are thinking about them.
And so the next day they are away again because they can't handle catching up and it escalates.
Bullying, no friends, depression, being different or being lonely are other contributing factors students may wag school. Whatever the cause, be it online or in person, these issues cause extreme stress and worry for those they affect.
Schools in our region are no strangers to students' absenteeism. Procedures have been in place for years that often involve a text message or email instantly sent home or to a parents phone, once a student is marked absent in their first class.
A follow-up phone call takes up valuable teaching or planning time for teachers and deans. Truancy officers are employed in most schools and home visits are almost daily in some cases. Truancy officers often face dangerous dogs, unresponsive families, nobody home or even scary situations as they try to get students back to school.
Bottom line if a student is absent all day they miss out.
If they are late to school they miss out.
If regular attendance is not maintained then learning is severely affected.
By missing huge chunks of knowledge in each subject, the gaps can build up, leading to failing entire assessments. Add all this catch-up stress together and it can lead to absenteeism snowballing, often with students giving up altogether rather than trying to get their attendance and learning back on track.
Teachers and management have many more important issues to be dealing with on a daily basis including providing quality education for all their students and dealing with student behaviour in school.
The flow-on effect of absenteeism affects more than just one student's success.
The onus needs to be on much more than just the schools.
Parents, whānau and the students themselves must make the commitment to their education.
If other expectations or requirements are placed on our youth then they really do struggle to attend.
In other situations students need to set goals, combat challenges and ask for help when required to enable them to get to school on time every single day. Schools have many different strategies to help out students who need extra support to make it to school each day.
My message to parents dealing with this issue? Don't explain your child's absences away. Instead make sure you know where they are at all times and work with your child's school to get them there.
If we don't place expectations and guidelines on our youth, not only will their education suffer, they will find it harder to be successful when they leave school.
Jane Trask is a former school teacher.