A Good Reason for Absence

I am caring for my terminally ill father.  It is a full time job at the moment and so, I am not teaching.  I haven’t had time to even think about this blog let alone log in and post on it.  My mind is filled with other things.

While I am here, I want to draw your attention to a particular type of student that you might just have in your classroom.  This student is a “student carer”.  It isn’t what it sounds like.  This student cares for, or contributes to the care of, a parent or sibling.

This student’s day starts very differently to her peers.  Where most students wake up and gets themselves organised, leaves the house and attends school; this student wakes up and before thinking of themselves they are engaged in caring for another.  They wake up their parent or sibling, assist with meal preparation and feeding, administer medications, and contribute to household chores.

Their home is not designed around the student, but the person this student cares for. There might be a padlock on the fridge, rails in the bathroom, walking aids in the corner, a hospital bed in the living room.  The other adults in the house (if there is one) are not focused on your student, they are focused on the sick or injured person.  The Student Carer may spend school nights sitting in emergency rooms, or wake up to an empty house and a note telling them that the adults are at the hospital.  It might be hard to launder their uniform because their are too many sheets, towels and clothes belonging to the unwell person that need to be cleaned. School work and school rules are not a priority in their home.

The parent might do the best they can to fulfil the role of parent, however this is hard when so much responsibility sits squarely on the shoulders of the child.  Freedom is a dream in this home.  The rules of adult/child relationships are turned upside down.  Nothing in this student’s world works the way you might expect.

Often, these students are strong, and you might not know what is really happening at home.  Often, caring for the sibling and parent is not acknowledged in the home or in the world outside the home.  It might be that the adult doesn’t want to admit that they need help, or that life has been this way for so long that the student doesn’t know that life could be different.  It’s just the way it is.

As a teacher, how do you support this student in your classroom?

  • Acknowledge that life at home is challenging.
  • Discuss the situation with the student in private, be open and honest.  Negotiate deadlines for assessment and homework assignments.
  • Be sensitive to the difficulties that the adults in the situation are facing.
  • Remember that you are not a counsellor or doctor.
  • Seek help from relevant people in the school and refer the family to community services that can assist them.
  • Set clear boundaries and reduce responsibilities of the student where you can.
  • Remember that relationships with adults are very different for this student and adjust accordingly.

Do you have one of these students in your classroom?

How do you adjust to support them?



2 thoughts on “A Good Reason for Absence

  1. It’s been such a long time since we’ve touched base Mel. I am so sorry to hear about your father. Thank you for sharing such an insightful post. There can be so much in the worlds of our students that contribute to their school life. It is definitely important to recognise the skills and strengths, as well as challenges, that come with the different roles they play at home.


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