Thoughts on Teaching – Snow Days – March 5, 2015

So, here we stand.  Our third snow day in the last two weeks.  All of them in late February to early March in Texas.  Yes, that is unusual.  It poses the same challenges that happen any time you have unscheduled time off from school, and, without a doubt, it is better than last year, when our big frozen, snow days were during finals period of the fall semester.  Missing days in the 7th and 8th week of the semester is not bad overall, especially since I do not give midterms.  Those who do midterms are struggling to figure out how to make those up, with the real result that most of them just get pushed to after Spring Break, which is next week.

I know that a snow day is nothing particularly unusual, and that what counts as a snow day would be an average winter day in Pennsylvania, where I spent 8 years of graduate school.  Still, it poses interesting challenges.  I want to talk about those challenges in two ways — first with school and schedule and second with personal time.

The most obvious problem with a snow day is making up the material.  For my online classes, there is no problem, except when students have their internet knocked out from losing power and the like.  Otherwise, the semester just goes along like normal.  And, unless it were to happen at a time when we were testing, days off are essentially irrelevant to an online class.  Since half of my load is online, three of my classes were totally unaffected.  My other three classes are hybrid classes, where the days off are more directly problematic.  We only meet once each week, and if the day is missed, that week is missed.  If the classes were distinct, I could make up in one class for one set of assignments missing, but I am teaching three of the same classes, all at the same point and doing the same assignments.  Thus, to make up the material in any meaningful way means making some of my students do significantly more work for the grade than what they would otherwise do.  There also are no built-in make-up days this semester for me, meaning that when I miss, that material is just gone.  I do have some safeguards built in, however.  For one, they all have pre-class writing on the subject to complete.  So, they are, in fact, directly held accountable for the material that we were to discuss that week.  As well, I have an assignment on the chapter(s) for the week also due before class, and that also means the students are held responsible for the material.  What they are missing out on is the actual classroom discussion of the material.  Two of my three hybrid classes have now missed a day (different weeks of material, of course), and that means that I have not had a chance to discuss the material with them.  One of them was last week, and so I did make some references to the material this week in class.  The other one missed this week, which means I will not see them again until two Thursdays from now.  That is a long time to carry over material.  The other big problem for me is that we were in the middle of a three-class themed set of material.  We covered the World War I to World War II period looking at the theme of American neutrality in the world as it related to the US becoming a world power.  Since the three were linked, missing one means that material was not covered and topics got lost.  As we were doing a narrow look at the issues, it also means that the broader context of what was going on in the world also didn’t get connected to the material.  What’s the effect of all of this for the students?  They’re probably just happy to not have to come to class.  But for me, I’m just trying to figure out how to stay on track and cover what I want to cover.  By the next time I see the class that didn’t meet today, it will be two weeks later, and we will be on to the post-war period.  Sigh.  I worry too much, I’m sure, but I can’t help it, as it is my job.

The other side is my personal experience with the snow days.  It seems like an unmitigated good.  A day off from school.  No travel, no obligations.  But it never works that way.  Of course, as I said above, for one thing, my online classes just continue as normal.  The days off we had last week were in the middle of my own grading period of their material, and so I graded in my time off.  But I actually feel like I got less grading done with the days off than I would have if I had gone into work.  The problem with everyone being home is that we are a household of 6, and getting things done at home when everyone is home is not always the easiest thing.  An even bigger problem, however, is the feeling that I get that is like how the students feel.  I have the day off, why should I work?  I have to force myself to get something done.  For example, take today.  If I had been at school, I would have gotten to campus around 9:30.  I would have been in my office doing work from 9:30-11.  I would have taught from 11-12:15.  Lunch until 1:30.  Then back in the office doing work from 1:30-3:30.  On my own at home, I could barely force myself to sit down for an hour to do classwork.  The temptation to view it as a full day off, especially as this would have been the last work day before Spring Break anyway, is strong.  But I have a lot to do.  I have things to catch up on, both in grading and in preparation.  I owe my hybrid students grades on quite a few small things, and I do not even have the next week of material up and ready for them.  But I find it hard to get any real work done.  That means that I am not getting what I need to do done and feeling guilty about not doing the work at the same time.  Isn’t the human brain wonderful?

The solution to this?  Treat a snow day off from work as a work day.  Or, treat a day off from work as a day off.  I have to choose one or the other.  If I try to treat is as partly one or the other, I just feel guilty.

Those are my thoughts on it.  What do you think?  Do you enjoy unexpected days off?  Do you get anything done?  Do you feel guilty about not getting things done?

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About Scott Williams

I am an educator, community-college instructor, thinker, husband, parent of three, student of life, owner of a parrot, player of video games, voracious reader, restless wanderer, and all around guy.

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