Sunday, April 5, 2015

"Break Creep," from Dr. Amelia.

So like many universities, we have a day off surrounding the weekend of Easter. We have Monday, which I always thought was a little odd, given that, you know, if you celebrate Easter, then Friday is a legit religious holiday.

Regardless, many flakies want a four-day weekend, so they just skip Friday as well. And at Thanksgiving, they want a whole week off (we give them Wednesday, Thursday and Friday), so they skip Monday and Tuesday. I always have a few who miss the Monday and sometimes the Tuesday after Spring break. And so it goes.

So at my school, proffies are bifurcated into the "nice" proffies who schedule less important things like group meetings or conferences or semi-related films on the days surrounding scheduled breaks. And the "mean" proffies who schedule, according to the students, "that midterm just so I can't go skiing with my family." The "awesome" proffies just cancel class entirely, but we are really not supposed to do that.

I am somewhere in the middle - I schedule things according to the needs of the material I'm teaching. I don't usually give tests on the day before a break, but I will often give an extra credit, easy, surprise quiz on that day to reward the ones who do show up.

But in the past few years, we have started getting messages from Ullr and Chione*, high up in Adminiflakia exhorting us to be "sensitive to student needs" in not scheduling vital material around the breaks. Because, heaven forbid that flakies get anything vital on a class day that they have paid for.


*Bonus points for id-ing the reference.


  1. Students need to learn, which requires instruction, class sessions and evaluation.

    I'd call out the "nice" professors as just being lazy. I wish I taught a subject that was so easy that I could skip a few classes. To hell with them.

  2. Oh, I forgot: Happy Easter, everybody!

  3. I'm a realist and recognize that some days, the turnout will inevitably be small. But on the nice-vs-mean spectrum, I lean to the mean end.

    Why? they ask me. I'll let Dennis Leary explain.

  4. we get Monday off as well, I assume because it allows students from outside the immediate area to travel home for Easter.. and yes, I have regular class up until the break...

  5. I mostly ignore breaks: I've tried scheduling things before, and after, and neither really affects behavior much. I assume class goes on unless I'm below a quorum (the minima shrinks as the semester progresses), and I have catch-up days built into the syllabus to give me slack.

  6. In the past four days, I have attended five worship services, sung at three, rehearsed twice (once 'til 10 p.m. after a worship service, once on Saturday morning), prepared communion once, and served as one of two voices presenting a c. 30-min. reading of selected (longish) Bible verses retelling the whole history of salvation (there were admittedly breaks in there for psalms sung by a quartet; on the other hand, the entire service was 2 hours long). These are the high holy days of my faith, and I wouldn't miss any of it (though I could probably quit happily enough after the more quietly celebratory Easter Vigil service on Saturday night; this is true of many heavily involved church members and not a few members of the clergy I know).

    I am, however, more than a little bit tired. I'm also more than a bit behind on grading, but that seems to be my natural state at this time of year, regardless of when Easter falls. I wouldn't mind having tomorrow off, but I don't, which is entirely appropriate given that I teach at a state-funded (and very religiously diverse) university. I don't expect to have particularly low attendance tomorrow, either, or to hear many Easter-related excuses. Occasionally somebody drives home for the weekend and gets stranded by an unreliable car, but that's about it (and that can happen any weekend, though holidays of various kinds increase the chances).

    We do, however, have the Thanksgiving-week problem. I try to do something useful but not crucial then, but for the most part I let the class sessions fall where they may (which usually means we're in individual-conference season about then, and the Thanksgiving-week conferences do seem to fill up).

    It's probably relevant that the great majority of our students live no more than a few-hour drive from campus (or they live overseas entirely).

    Years ago, when I was teaching at another state school, I did tell one young woman that shopping for an Easter dress may be a Good Friday tradition for her and her mother, but it's not a religious observance (I forebore suggesting that it was, in fact, an inappropriate way to spend Good Friday if one claimed to be observing the day at all).

    I'm also pretty sure that the observance of Ramadan does not *require* staying up all night partying and sleeping all day, but I don't tell any Muslim students who try to make that claim so (most don't), because it seems inappropriate to set myself up as an authority on the appropriate way to practice someone else's religion. I do, however, point out that students who need to miss class for religious observances are expected to plan, and preferably work, ahead to make up any missed work. Maybe because Ramadan is a month long, most Muslim students seem to be surrounded by older adults who model balancing religious observance and ongoing secular life responsibilities in some sort of reasonable way.

  7. Conferences are considered less important? Uh oh. I'm accidentally nice (until tomorrow when I announce that those who skipped that conference have two absences and an F for the week).

  8. When I was in grad school, break creep was worst around Thanksgiving.

    The holiday is on a Thursday, but because this was Prestigious Private U., with students from all over the country, the undergrads had to take off Wednesday so they could make it home. Most profs didn't do much of substance on Wednesdays in order to make allowance for this. But then, because Wednesdays were a write-off, students decided that they could book their holiday flights on Tuesday evenings instead, which meant that they sometimes failed to make it to class on Tuesdays. Eventually, even though the holiday still officially began on Thursdays, some people took the whole week off.

    As an instructor, I need every class meeting I can get in order to get through all my material, so if a class meeting is scheduled the day before or the day after a holiday, that's not going to affect my syllabus. Here at Third-Tier State U., the students sometimes complain about this, but the fact is that this is a commuter school, and almost none of them need to make a cross-country flight with a transfer in Denver or Chicago on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

    If someone does leave a day early, and misses a single class, it's no skin off my nose, and it's their responsibility to make sure they catch up on what they missed. The ones that annoy me are the ones that book their end-of-semester travel in exam week, and then want me to create and proctor a special exam just for them a week early so they can go skiing in Park City, or lie on the beach in Costa Rica.

    Our university's academic calendar is approved about three years in advance, and is available on the school's website two years ahead of time. Find out your final exam schedule before you book your vacation. And if your parents are the ones who book the holiday, having them call me won't change my answer.

  9. I was a bad college student, and when I messed up, I knew there'd be consequences. I accepted them. I liked many of the proffies who were tough on me. What is so maddening about the modern student is that he/she will fuck up knowingly, and then still feel entitled to a break.

  10. Ullr was the Norse god of winter, skiing, snowshoes, and snow. Chione was the Greek goddess of snow. The books by the D'Aulaires on Greek and Norse mythology were two of my childhood favorites. Sadly, both D'Aulaires have passed on, and their publisher won't let me use any of their illustrations for my astronomy textbook, so I have to redraw them myself. It sure isn't easy, since they were SO beautiful!

  11. I've never gotten emails like that about break, but when our school rose unexpectedly high in a certain NCAA tourney one year, our otherwise-sensible provost apparently lost his sense of proportion, and issued similar missives. I was disappointed.

    I do have to admit, however, that a lot of people seem to have heard the university's name for the first time during that period. Informally-extended vacations presumably don't accomplish the same purpose.