This week:

  • I share some ideas for letting students know about course contingency plans.
  • I point you toward my colleagues’ coverage of the new Netflix show The Chair.
  • I tell you about a coming event in which some colleagues and I will demystify our reporting process.

Tentative Plans

As the fall semester approached, Jennifer Honeycutt found herself in a tricky spot. Honeycutt, an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Bowdoin College, was preparing to teach in person for the first time — she started her job last summer and until now had taught entirely online.

Bowdoin, which brought back some students to its Maine campus last year, is requiring students, faculty, and staff to be vaccinated and just announced a temporary mask mandate as part of its plans for a fully in-person fall.

But Honeycutt has a 15-month-old daughter who’s not yet eligible to be vaccinated. What would she do if her daughter were exposed to Covid at day care and needed to quarantine? Even when a college plans to offer in-person classes, professors may have to supply some fine print.

Honeycutt took to Twitter late last week to seek advice. How were other instructors explaining the possibility of such disruptions on their syllabi?

She got some good responses, many of which emphasized the need for flexibility and clear communication. Professors, of course, aren’t the only ones who might be unable to come to class. Several shared syllabus language that explained they would continue to record classes on Zoom for students in quarantine or otherwise unable to attend — and would be ready to move the whole class into that format if necessary.

Erin Whitteck pointed toward sample language that the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, where she is an assistant director, wrote in question-and-answer format for its faculty.

For Honeycutt, the big takeaway is that professors and students will have to extend grace to one another as the pandemic continues to affect their lives. “The verbiage that people seem to be using, at least in the responses, really has to do with this idea of flexibility,” Honeycutt said in an interview. “Seeing that other people are thinking similarly is helpful, and a little bit reassuring that we’re all kind of dealing with this together.” She said she planned to emphasize to her students that she and they would need to remain flexible and understanding about the possibility that some or all of them may need to shift online.

As has been clear throughout the pandemic, not everyone’s in exactly the same boat. Not all professors have young children — those who do, she noted, tend to be earlier in their careers, adding pressure to an already-tense situation. Many are teaching, she added, at colleges without the kinds of precautions Bowdoin has put in place.

That sense of uncertainty, though, is widespread. “A lot of us are going to have to live with the fact,” Honeycutt said, “that the syllabus is a living document this year.”

How are you communicating to students the need for flexibility this fall? Share your ideas with me, at beckie.supiano@chronicle.com, and they may appear in a future newsletter.

Watch With Us

If you’re looking for a new show to binge-watch while you doom-scroll, consider The Chair. The Netflix dramedy, which stars Sandra Oh as the first woman to lead the English department of the fictional Pembroke University, has already given professors plenty to unpack, debate — and see themselves in.

Should you get into The Chair, or just be curious about it, our Chronicle colleagues have you covered with a bunch of stories pegged to the show:

  • An interview with Sandra Oh
  • An interview with the creator/executive producer/writer Amanda Peet and a co-star, Jay Duplass
  • Episode recaps in which four real academics comment on what they saw

Talk to Us

As Chronicle reporters, we often are asked how our work is produced. What can professors expect if they agree to an interview with a reporter? How should they reach out about a development they think we ought to cover? To answer those and other questions, I’ll be joining a couple of our colleagues for a virtual event on Monday, September 13. Please join us, if you’re able, and spread the word to anyone you think might want to attend. More information is here.

Thanks for reading Teaching. If you have suggestions or ideas, please feel free to email us, at beckie.supiano@chronicle.com or beth.mcmurtrie@chronicle.com.

—Beckie

Learn more about our Teaching newsletter, including how to contact us, at the Teaching newsletter archive page.