Wednesday, February 06, 2013

 

Watching the Skies


Apparently, New England is in line for a “repent your sins” snowstorm on Friday.

I know this because I heard it from at least a dozen different people on campus.  Then again from the kids.

The kids, of course, are giddy.  To them, a huge snowstorm represents a day off from school, and a chance to go sledding, build snowmen, and throw snowballs at each other.  It’s all good.

(The only downside is that a Friday storm could postpone the Daddy/Daughter dance.  TG is not happy about that.)

I expect kids to be giddy.  I remember savoring snow days as a kid, and kids don’t have to deal with many of the hassles of storms.  For them, it’s all upside.

But it’s been fun watching adults react almost exactly the same way.  It’s like a group flashback to childhood.

Administratively, an entire snow day is much less of a headache than a delayed opening or an early closing.  When you split the day, there is literally no single moment during the day that doesn’t create some sort of dilemma.  You have a delayed opening that eliminates half of a class period.  Is the class still required?  A lab section is shortened, but the experiment itself takes a set amount of time.  Somebody’s shift is bisected.  Some people can’t come in because their kids’ schools are closed.  Somebody can’t make it but forgets to call in, and her students storm your office, upset that they braved the elements for no reason.  

But a full day is much cleaner.  Yes, it causes syllabus issues, and there’s always some making up to do.  But at least you don’t have a flurry of no-win judgment calls.  At this point, when a monster storm approaches, I root for it to arrive early enough to take out a full day.  

The kids have a set of rituals that they use to bring about snow days.  I won’t reveal them all here; suffice it to say they know what they’re doing.  

Snow days during Intersession are a problem, only because there isn’t much time to make them up.  And I live in fear of snow days during December finals.  But a snow day in early February isn’t so bad.  There’s time to make up what needs to be made up.

And it’s fun watching an office full of adults revert to some dimly remembered childhood habits.

Comments:
Perhaps I've mentioned it here before, but the exercise of losing a day can be interesting and productive. When forced by Mother Nature to drop something from the overloaded "mini PhD" syllabus for a course, you might end up identifying something the students wouldn't have learned in the first place.

Focus on the primary outcomes.
 
February or not, it's not so easy to make up a science lab for coordinated science classes, in which the same lab is done across sections during a week. I coordinate our microbiology course, and I am so, so grateful that we don't hold any micro labs on Friday. There are two on Saturday, however, and I am already wondering how to fix the schedule. Many of the micro labs are multi-week, so it's not just a question of dropping a lab.
 
Here in Big City, the weather has become a media event. Whenever bad weather threatens, the TV weather reporters go into full shriek mode and try to convince you that Armageddon is fast approaching—“You will all freeze to death in a snowdrift”.
Snow days are rare here at Proprietary Art School where I teach. But when they do occur, they throw a monkey wrench into your syllabus, since you lose a whole day out of the quarter which you cannot make up. So you have to rush through the material a little bit faster, just so that you cover everything that is called for in the syllabus. And you pray that there isn’t another snow day later on in the quarter.

When I was a kid, snow was a lot of fun—you got off from school and you got to go outside and play in it. But as an adult, snow is now little more than a nuisance—it slows down traffic, it has to be shoveled, and everything you do when you leave the house becomes more difficult.

It is sort of like Christmas. When I was a kid Christmas was a lot of fun, but as an adult Christmas is less fun since I now have to pay for it.

 
I'd like to add something from the staff side of the equation. My school is mostly (like 90%) evening classes, M-Th. Lately we've had several dicey mornings and Friday afternoons. As it's not an impact to course participation, I get concerned about safety for my staff. Is it horrible out? No. But if my SUV is sliding around because roads aren't clear yet, then so are the little cars.

If it's snowing or sleeting in the early morning all our students with kids aren't coming in for anything because they are dealing with their kids' school delays. If it's a Friday afternoon, the same sort of goes plus they want to get home.

Here's a thought: staff want to get home too.
 
I'm anticipating our admin closing the schools at 12:01, because that way they can claim a full school day (which are apparently all-or-nothing for government funding). Faculty will, of course, be expected to be there to look after any children dropped off, and expected to stay late until those children are picked up by their parents. And in the morning we will be expected to deliver meaningful instruction that can be repeated for the children who's parents kept them home.

And at 7 PM, when some of us are still waiting for someone to pick up little Susie and Johnny, we can expect to hear reporters talking about how lazy we are in getting a snow day when people with real jobs have to work.

(The other option is that admin declares a snow day about half an hour before the first class, which means that faculty have already made the trek into work, but we'll have to come back another day to make it up so it's a trip for nothing.)
 
We'll probably call at noon tomorrow, but a lot of our students who head to far-distant boondock homes for the weekend will, sensibly, leave before the storm really hits tomorrow afternoon, i.e., they will skip their tomorrow morning classes and are already home or on their way.

I doubt I'll have half my students tomorrow morning, setting up a classic dilemma: do I hold off the important stuff til I have a full class Monday and so penalize the students who have shown? Or do I give Friday my best treatment and try to do a quick catch-up on Monday for Friday's skippers, thus penalizing the people who were in class Friday? Or do I pretend Monday that Friday was a normalish day with its normalish quota of skippers and that therefore no special accommodation is required?

Bleah--hard cases make bad law.

And then there's the question: why do we experience our lives and work as so dreary that the prospect of bad and dangerous weather titillates and energizes us? I don't hold myself out as a model of maturity here. Just four weeks into the semester, and I hope against hope I won't have to drive in and teach tomorrow.
 
My sympathies for dealing with this in a microbiology lab class. My suggestion is to think about how you would deal with the same situation in an actual micro lab with tests in progress and make it a teachable moment via an e-mail assignment to everyone, whether disrupted or not.

What we have done when a lab day got wiped out by a near disaster (real disasters wipe out a week) is run that one the next week and cancel meetings of the labs that did get it done. Re-sync.

I had to laugh at the "media event" comment. Weather has definitely moved into prime time, and doubly so when it heads toward NYC. Watching the national news has been like watching a local station the last few days.
 
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