With adult learners, teachers face a unique set of challenges. Unlike with younger students, discipline and motivation are generally not a problem. For adult classes one of the major concerns is attendance.
Adults will often have a lot of commitments; family and work demand the majority of their time and English classes are not always a priority. While you cannot demand that all your students attend class all the time, there are some things you can do to help maintain the flow of the course.
Adult Learners: Attendance Do's and Dont's
DO: Be Punctual
Once you have met several times, you will have some idea of who might miss classes more often than others. Regardless of the size of your class, it is important to start on time so that other students do not feel like they are wasting their time. By starting on time you will also show latecomers that the class does not revolve around them. Make it clear that latecomers will have to catch up by looking at another student’s notes or the notes on the board. This way you will not need to repeat your first couple minutes of class whenever another students walks in.
Adult learners are less interested in their grade thus making participation a large percent of it will not encourage students to attend. For younger students grades are important because they affect things such as college applications and job opportunities but giving an adult student a low grade will not affect much besides his confidence and willingness to participate in activities. In adult classes, you do not have to give overall grades if you would rather not. It is important to give students constructive feedback and corrections but providing a letter grade is almost meaningless.
DO: Be Sympathetic
Understand that students have lives outside of class and that certain things are definitely more important than learning English. There are probably times in the past where you have had to skip class because of work, an illness, or a family emergency so it is only fair to be considerate when students say they will not be able to make it to class. Some things such as business trips will not even be in their control so you cannot blame them for absences related to certain activities or events.
Telling students over and over again the importance of attending class is also not going to make a huge difference in attendance. Obviously students know they should attend lessons but repeatedly telling them that is unlikely to improve the situation and will only waste even more class time. Often this type of lecturing will feel more like punishment to the students who attend regularly and arrive on time than to those people who come late or miss lessons.
You should help students catch up after missing a class so that you will not have to review all the material you covered in the previous lesson. You can create study material by organizing notes for each lesson. Try not to spend too much time on this. Fleshing out your lesson plan should be sufficient. Email this to students who do not attend class to help them understand the material they missed. You can also encourage students to buddy up so that if one of them misses class, the other can share his or her notes.
DON’T: Get Frustrated
It can be extremely frustrating when students skip class week after week. The best thing you can do is stay positive about the situation and devote extra attention to the learners who do attend. If you are frustrated during lessons, it will have a negative impact on your students because you are not performing your best and it could affect their moods too.
Perhaps the class is too easy or hard for students missing class so they are uninterested in the material you are discussing. The class could also just meet at a particularly inconvenient time. If a student misses class regularly, you might want to suggest he switch to another class or consider one-on-one lessons. You can explain that missing class means that he is not getting the full benefit of taking the course and will not improve as rapidly.
Luckily if you are teaching one-on-one classes, attendance will not affect other students so while it can still be frustrating for you, you can simply save the material you prepared for another lesson. Adult learners can be a pleasure to work with but one of the downsides you are likely to face is having students repeatedly miss class due to conflicts with other commitments. If this happens in your adult classes, continue to teach lessons as planned and do your best to help students catch up when necessary. While attendance issues can be frustrating, there are definitely ways you can deal with them so that everyone can still get the most out of the course.
See more on teaching adult learners here: ‘What Adult Learners Want: Know Them To Teach Them Better’, ‘Adult ESL Learners: Homework Assignments That Work’, and here: ‘Teaching Adults How-To: Advantages and Challenges’.
Do you have any other advice on handling the attendance problem? We’d love to hear from you – please share your ‘recipes’ in the comments below!