Taking Time Off, Part 2 Preparing Your Students and the Sub

Dr. Tamara Fudge, Professor in the School of Business and Information Technology, Kaplan University

In my last blog entry, I worked hard to convince you to take time off from teaching duties now and then, and take advantage of the vacation days allotted by your school.  Once you have made this decision, the real work begins. Herein lie two focal points: the students and your substitute.

The students must be told about the sub, and you need to be the one to tell them, unless of course your departure is an unscheduled emergency. Be careful not to tell them too early; however, so they don’t bother your sub with questions before he or she is truly on call!

  • A simple announcement in the online classroom should be sufficient to tell them of the new “face” in the room. Include the name of your sub and an email address. You can also ask the sub to post an introduction if you think it is appropriate, but remember that fewer student questions are asked if you are the person to introduce the idea that a sub is taking over for a while.
  • Write an auto-response for your official school email. Explain when you expect to return, and remind students that there is a substitute and include that email address. Ask for the email recipient’s patience since you are not likely to respond immediately. Remember that your auto-response will go to anyone who emails you, and write all content accordingly. Most mail systems let you write in advance and specify beginning and ending dates.

A note of caution: some students do not understand the need to take vacation and may question why you are leaving in the middle of a term. They do not realize that online professors work year-round and that time between terms (if there is any) is spent in grading and new prep. “I am taking my vacation this week” without any other explanation may be simply too vague and could make the students feel abandoned. Perception is important! You can ask a colleague to review your course announcements about your absence and give you feedback if you feel it is helpful.

Preparing materials for the substitute professor can take some time, especially if the person has not taught the course before.

  • For seminars and other online meetings, consider sharing your PowerPoint(s) and/or notes. Not everyone teaches seminars at the same pace, so you might like to explain which parts are most important to cover. Expect the sub might add other material and allow him or her that leeway. Remember to discuss the seminar venue requirements (Adobe, etc.), too.
  • If you have any procedures you regularly follow – such as grading seminar participation right after the seminar ends or being picky with grammar and spelling – make sure you mention this to the sub to help ensure some consistency for the students. Discuss who will grade late work, keeping in mind that late assignments must be graded within a certain time frame.
  • If the sub has not taught the course before, provide the assignment grading rubric in a Word document.
  • Input your normal beginning-of-unit and other announcements to begin on appropriate days. This will make it easier for your sub but also provide consistent guidance for your students.
  • Ask the sub to let you know when he or she has access to your classroom and make sure you share your cell phone number with him or her in case there are issues that need your input.

Lastly, don’t forget to tell your chair when everything has been set up. Keeping everyone informed will make your time off and subsequent return run more smoothly!

Beach

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