I made a mistake yesterday. It really illustrates that there is always the chance of something unexpected happening in the classroom. In holding to the premise that disclosure is good, I marched into my afternoon class yesterday and before I snapped in the video on charter schools that I planned to show, I announced that due to Bob's surgery, I will miss their presentations next week, and that the department chair will be substituting for me for the next two weeks. (That is the optimistic plan; there is also the pessimistic side: a chance that I will miss the rest of the semester, but I am choosing to believe that repair #4 will be the charm).
Hands shot up all over the room. Several faces almost looked like they might cry. I felt like a non-custodial parent who misses their kid's little league championship when they promised to be there.
I realized my mistake immediately. I should not have hit them with this news without having time to address all their concerns. I should have waited until Thursday, when I will have the time to hear them out and respond. I managed to field a few questions, and promised to fully discuss everything on Thursday. One question I took was whether the department chair will be participating in their assessment. Well, yes, to a degree. He will be taking notes of things that strike him. But I will still evaluate them, and much of the 20 points is determined by something other than the actual performance.
I took a lesson from this when I told the evening class. I do have the time in that class to field questions since it is longer. I told them how sorry I am to miss their big day and at the same time how proud I am to showcase what I am sure will be their outstanding efforts. The shock of the afternoon students gave me an idea about remaining connected. I gave them my personal email address since I check it on my blackberry, and the twitter name (howzerdo) where I will post brief updates (hate the word "tweet," find it an insult to birds) on surgery day, and during his hospitalization and recovery. (I don't plan to use it otherwise.)
One question several students in the evening section had was whether the department chair will ask them questions after their presentations. It was at that point I realized that presenting is a difficult task - it was for me as an undergraduate, and in fact, until I started teaching, I was afraid of public speaking. I had to answer yes, I think so, but he won't be trying to trip you up, so don't worry.
I promised them that I plan to err on the side of generosity with their grades.
One more class to tell tomorrow. It's the tricky one with the great midterms. Wish me luck.