When teachers can’t teach

College asks faculty to develop an instructional preparedness plan

By Emily Huntington

Horizon Reporter

Last fall, Barry Maxwell, a political science instructor, had kidney stones, and was unable to administer the final for his classes. This fall, Tim Watters got pneumonia and was in the hospital for a time.

What happens to a class when the teacher can’t teach?

Maxwell, one of four division chairs at Whatcom, explained that because it happens so rarely that instructors are out for more than a couple days, the college doesn’t have a more strategic plan. If an instructor is sick, he or she can either cancel their class, or trade favors with another instructor. Sometimes, they will call Western and see if any professors have time to teach a class.

“It’s trickier when you don’t know how long they’ll be gone,” Maxwell said. The college has never had to refund students’ money due to classes being canceled – even when an instructor dies.

Harold Helton, a history professor, died in the middle of a course last winter. What happens then is much like what happens when an instructor is sick indefinitely. Because there are so many instructors who can teach a variety of subjects, it’s never really difficult to find a replacement. Since there are so many history professors, they were able to substitute another teacher and keep the class going.

In Maxwell’s case, if no one had been able to administer the final, he would have given his students the benefit of the doubt and graded based on work turned in throughout the quarter. The hard part, he said, would have been the oral presentation, because a substitute wouldn’t know his students and it wouldn’t be fair to give that responsibility to a stranger. Luckily, Maxwell recovered and was there for the last day of classes.

The college is asking faculty to complete an “Instructional Preparedness Plan” for each quarter in the school year in the event of a campus closure or excessive flu related absences. Such a plan would indicate how teachers would communicate with students, and how they would  provide instruction – whether it be via e-mail, Moodle, or some other technology. The college is also hiring additional staff as needed for student and faculty training and tech support. Teachers are encouraged to get necessary training, inform students of the plan, and then test out the plan with students.


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