Advice for Teachers Needing to Seek Permission to Be Absent
Consult your Line Manager Before Approaching the School's Director
Often teachers want me to hold their hand (so to speak) when they need to seek permission from, say, the school's principal to be absent (often for a number of days) for personal reasons. For example, they may need to be out for legal reasons, such as collecting documents from an embassy. It’s a valid reason and management won't generally refuse the teacher, but it is important how you seek permission.
Firstly, consult your line manager and explain the circumstances clearly, honestly and in full. If possible, meet your line manager well in advance of the time you wish to be absent. They can then help you to formulate possible strategies to lessen the burden of your absence and work on how to approach the director or principal with your request. Some formal work environments may need you to fill out your request in writing, either on a designated form or as a letter.
You are then ready to approach the senior manager or director. It's okay to ask your line manager to attend with you. Present the solutions or options you discussed with your line manager earlier, such as switching classes around with other teachers and propose this option to them during the meeting. This shows them that you've thought about the school and the children by lessening the burden, rather than just thinking about your own needs.
For Short Absences During the Day Use a Permission Slip
If teachers need to pop out for important errands during the school day, use a permission slip. Include options for rescheduling or covering classes, though common sense suggests teachers should know to pick times when they have no or few classes.
Case Study: The Wrong Way to Ask
Just this week I had a teacher approach things all the wrong way. They went straight to senior management asking to take about a week off. They didn't give clear reasons and they hadn't thought about the impact their absence would have on both their students and their colleagues. Needless to say, the senior manager came rushing to me (the line manager) all flustered and irritated by the teacher. I told the senior manager I would meet the teacher to find out what it was all about.
Later that day, I met with the teacher and asked them to repeat their request. They wanted to take the time off to travel to a wedding and for some other personal business that quite honestly could wait. The wedding was not a family member. In summary, their reasons were largely self-centred. I had to explain to them that permission is granted when someone has a clear legitimate reason to need to be absent, such as a medical appointment, legal appointment or family emergency.
The psychology actually runs deeper than what we see on the surface. What I mean by this is that the thinking of this teacher tells you something about the nature of that person. Firstly, their thinking was rather selfish and self-centred and they hadn't even begun to think about how their actions would affect people around them, especially the children. This is not an effective personality type for a teacher. Their personal business that they wished to attend to was related to another career path, which tells me their heart was not in teaching. I pushed this teacher on this point probing them about how they were getting on in the job at the moment and their plans looking forward. I definitely hit a raw nerve that tells me something is eating away at this teacher inside. I will follow up on this with them in a few days when they've had time to reflect and I will push them more as I need to know clearly about their commitment and motivation moving forward.
The advice I gave this teacher when I met with them was not to go back to senior management and ask for this permission for a second time. The senior manager had already made it clear to me that if the teacher's reasons were not valid that they did not wish to see that teacher again.
In this case, employment laws would not be on the side of the teacher. The senior manager was within their rights to deny permission.
Case Study: The Right Way to Ask
A teacher came to me (their line manager) to ask my help in approaching senior management about taking a few days away. They had a health condition and needed to see a specialist which required some travel and would take more than a day.
The teacher explained clearly to me what the health issue was and where they needed to go. They also gave me plenty of warning in advance of the time. They considered the time when they would go, scheduling for a quiet period after exams to lessen the impact on school and students.
With all the information in hand I took them to meet senior management, let them explain their case and their plan. It was a very calm and relaxed meeting and unsurprisingly the teacher had no problem in getting the permission and the senior manager was comfortable talking with the teacher.
A little bit of planning about what you are going to say, how you are going to say it, and how you might lessen the impact goes a long way. It's worth spending this time thinking this through and thinking your motivations through, rather than ruining your relationship with upper management.
Employment laws of the country would almost certainly be on the side of the teacher in the case described above, but you can see that there wasn't a need for the teacher to bring the law into the discussion.