When I was younger, I loved snow days. I preferred to find out about them after I had gotten up and ready for the day so that I could take full advantage of the opportunities that snow days provided, since I did not have the self control to get up at my usual time if I knew that there was no school. In college, snow days were rare, but I still appreciated the occasional surprise class cancellation (except for the semester that at least 1/3 of my once-a-week class were cancelled – I don’t think we ever got to the “bang-up lecture on hegemony” that the professor kept promising). I liked these surprise cancellations so much that I thought that if I ever taught my own courses I would leave some space in the syllabus so that I could surprise students with a canceled class once a semester or so. Then I started teaching classes in grad school, and everything changed.
Suddenly, my concern was fitting all of the topics that I wanted to discuss into 15 weeks and a cancellation meant major revisions to the schedule that was already overflowing. I gave up on the idea of surprise cancellations (which students who commute surely would not have appreciated anyway) but the weather still caused the occasional problem. Sure, I enjoyed the day that I spent watching Mean Girls because I had been looking for a clip to use when I found out that classes were cancelled, but I also needed to spend time deciding how I was going to deal with the readings, discussions, assignment deadlines, and exam dates that were threatened by missing a class. This is exacerbated by the fact that my syllabi have very specific dates for everything (I have never been able to say, “we’ll talk about this book for a week or so and move on when we’re done” like some of my colleagues).
When classes are cancelled, then, I have a few options:
- Ignore the material I was going to discuss that day and move on. In some classes, this is inconvenient. In others, it is impossible. For these reasons, I have never used this option.
- Provide students with an outline of the things that I was going to discuss in class and cram the highlights in at the beginning of the next class before continuing on schedule. This works for discussion-based courses but not as well for things like statistics or research methods. It also gives students the perception that the topic was not very important.
- Cut down the material for two days and try to cover them both at once. This is typically the approach I use in discussion-based courses. It is inconvenient but does not completely eliminate the discussion of anything that I or my students find particularly important.
- Push everything back. Moving the entire schedule back a day inevitably pushes something at the end of the semester off of a cliff, so it is essentially the same as skipping a day. That is probably why I have not used this method, either.
- Speed things up. This is the approach that I am most likely to use in a class like statistics or research methods where I feel like I can’t leave anything out. The idea is that I will be behind at the end of each class period but I will eventually catch up to the planned schedule.
Any of these methods would probably be okay for a single class period, depending on the course topic. Unfortunately, this semester I have already missed an entire week of one course. I hate snow days.
*Edit: The title is now grammatically correct (it previously said “Being a professor takes ruins snow days” because the original title was that it “takes some of the fun out of” snow days but that was way too long. I also forgot to post the line about Facebook below. I’m apparently bad at both grammar and self-promotion.
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