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Teachers Work to Catch Up Students After H1N1 Absences

At the Remembrance Day assembly on Tuesday, Jacob stood on stage dressed in black pants and a white button-down shirt with a purple juice stain on the pocket. Shoulder-to-shoulder with his Grade two classmates, he watched his student teacher as she strummed the opening chords of “Waiting on the World to Change.” But when it came time to sing, all he could do was nervously shift his eyes from side to side and make tiny murmuring movements with his lips. Having returned to school Monday after a bout of H1N1, Jacob had missed the group practices and didn’t know the words to the song.

Remembrance Day assemblies at schools across the province might have looked a little less polished this year because of H1N1-related absentee rates in recent weeks.

Paula, an elementary Music and French teacher in Vernon, tried to prepare classes for Tuesday’s Remembrance Day performances. On the phone from her home in Vernon, she explains, “In my case being a music teacher, I need to teach them things in class in the group setting. And if they miss that, it’s close to impossible for them to make that up.”

Paula, who sees six classes a day of students in grades four to seven, says large numbers of children have been absent because of H1N1 and other seasonal illnesses. She told me that on the day of their assembly she was pleased to find that, for the first day in weeks, two of the classes had full attendance. The returning students in those classes were able to join in the class performances, after all. Paula says, “If it had been any other kids I don’t think they would’ve been able to participate, but these particular students were able to pick it up pretty quick.”

Paula wonders about the feasibility of the upcoming Christmas concert if H1N1 absences continue. “I’m really hoping that this flu will be done and that we’ll have full classes, because that’s really difficult if kids are away and they’re missing out on practices for things like concerts,” she says. “And I also have major roles: speaking roles, acting roles ... I’ll probably double up on my roles in case that person is away.”

While performances present a unique problem for absent students, making up missed lessons and tests in academic subjects poses its own set of challenges.

“I had four kids away on the day that I had a French test,” recalls Paula. “And I tried to do it during class time, but then it was like, ‘Well now they just missed that whole class.’ So now I have to re-teach that whole lesson again, to catch them up yet again.”

Many of Paula’s colleagues are in the same boat. “I walk by other classrooms and I see on their blackboard ‘French test at lunch’, ‘Make-up test at recess’, that kind of thing’s definitely going on,” she says. “And the staff room’s probably a little more empty with all the teachers trying to catch kids up in their own classrooms.”

Despite the scramble to compensate for lost learning time, Paula does think she will be able to cover the expected curriculum this term. She adds that her colleagues generally won’t put lessons on hold because kids are absent. “They just sort of plough forward,” she says.

Note: Names of children have been changed.

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