When Class Doesn’t Meet

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​This blog was originally posted on March 17th, 2015.

What do you do when a class you are teaching has to be cancelled at the last minute? Maybe you are sick or your car’s battery is dead. Perhaps you are dealing with a family emergency or a foot of snow. Even the best planners among us sometimes find at the last minute that we cannot (or should not) meet students in the classroom. So how do you let students know?

That question inspired discussion on the Writing Program Administrators Discussion list (WPA-L) last week. The conversation began with a question on how to deal with a student prank. A student wrote a “Class cancelled” message on the board, and others in the course, who arrived later, believed the message and left. The question was how to deal with the absences and missed work for the students who were pranked.

The discussion list, as usual, replied with some great advice, and you can check the messages in the list archive to read more. For me, the conversation led me to two realizations: (1) I have been lucky, and (2) I need to add a policy to my syllabus.

Luckily, I set a policy to avoid class cancellation confusion. On the first day of class, I tell students about the importance of checking email before they come to class each day, as that is how I will let them know if anything out of the ordinary has happened since we last met. If I’m sick or the like, I try to let them know the night before and give them an alternative assignment; but I do tell them about a morning last fall when I got up to go to school and found that my mother had fallen, so I had to send out a cancellation/new assignment just an hour before class met. I do not announce last-minute class changes in any other way.

The conversation, however, made me realize that I need to add that policy to my syllabus. It’s common for a student or two to miss the first class meeting or to add the class after that first meeting. I’ve been lucky that none of those students ever became confused about class meetings. I’m not a fan of legalistic syllabus, full of policies, but I am convinced that I need to address this issue.

How do you handle cancelling or rescheduling class meetings at the last minute? What strategies work for you? I’d love to hear from you. Just leave me a comment below, or drop by my page on Facebook or Google+.

[Photo: Today Has Been Cancelled Pillowcase by Wicker Paradise, on Flickr]

About the Author
Traci Gardner, known as "tengrrl" on most networks, writes lesson plans, classroom resources, and professional development materials for English language arts and college composition teachers. She is the author of Designing Writing Assignments, a contributing editor to the NCTE INBOX Blog, and the editor of Engaging Media-Savvy Students Topical Resource Kit.