Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Filling In

We have this policy here, which basically says that if an instructor is missing class, they need to take a sick day (totally reasonable) and find someone else to cover the class.  Or at least be there.  (At least, if there's advance notice.  So if you wake up vomiting with a fever, you can just email the department staff and ask them to let the classes know you're ill that day.)

So typically, say someone knows they have to take their kid to some special thing (getting tonsils out, perhaps), which is totally reasonable.  Or even if they have a conference (in which case, they wouldn't take a sick day).  They send an email out to the whole department asking if people will step up and cover x, y, and z classes on specific days and times.  And then, in the tonsils type case, they have something prepped, and the covering person carries that out. 

As you might guess, the same people generally answer the call, with a small cadre answering often, a slightly larger cadre answering sometimes, and most people never answering at all.  You might also guess the gender issues.  Fathers rarely seem to need to be with their kids to get the tonsils out.  Mothers do.  Very few men answer the call (I could name two here that often do, so some are super good). 

I'm in the slightly larger cadre that answers sometimes.  And today is going to be one of those times.  I get to go take roll and be the responsible party (see, doesn't that make you laugh?) while the tech folks teach the class how to do some computer programmy thing (it totally makes sense in the context of this assignment sort of thing, even if it sounds wonky).

Officially, we take the sick leave (or so I assume, because when I'm sick I take sick leave... but usually that's the morning of thing, so I don't bother trying to get coverage, and even then, only every few years because I'm very, very lucky).

The students, it's hoped, don't miss out totally on classtime, and learn whatever it is they're supposed to be learning.

But the people who fill in, just fill in.  There's no official recognition, no overtime, nada.  There's usually a thank you from the person whose class you took, and that's nice.  But the extra hour out of your day to do extra work is considered necessary by the powers that be, but unrecognized.  They'd get cranky at the person whose class it was if they didn't get coverage, but the people who do that extra work don't get anything for it.  (And since people who've never bothered to lift a finger for anyone else ask for and get coverage, it's not a reciprocal thing.)

There's no sense that covering ten times will get you a notch higher on the merit pay thing, for example.  The chair, if zie knows, may be momentarily grateful, but then it's done.  Much better to use the extra time to work on your own stuff which may be recognized.

I'm just a little frustrated at myself because I really don't want to do this today, but I said I would, and I will, and I know it's sort of going to throw things off the rest of the day.  And I'm cranky today because of some stress.

Okay, enough complaining.  Time to get everything ready so that it doesn't throw off my day for real.

How do your schools handle coverage of this sort?


  1. We don't do this at all. We just cancel class, and give an out-of-class assignment. Asking for coverage seems like a nightmare!

  2. Ours handles it the more or less the same way yours handles it -- if you're sick on the day itself, the departmental secretary shows up and cancels the class and puts up notices; but if you know you're going to be gone, you put out a call and find someone to cover.

    Which means, yes, the same six to eight people end up doing the sub work. And yes, it's usually the women. (Usually? Always.) And no, no benefits accrue. You don't get any sort of Service pay-off or anything for doing this work. And those who don't (the men and the other few who never volunteer) don't suffer for it.

    It's the same with Committee work. In theory, if you don't do Committee work, it should hurt against you on the Service level. In fact, I don't see the men in the department (who do little or none of the Committee work) suffering at all. They get promoted right along with the women, and their pay is as high or higher than ours.

    Am I annoyed by this? Yes, I am.

  3. If the absence can be planned in advance, then we, too, do a call for subs. Tenure Track faculty usually arrange for a "switch" or cookies (or wine) as payment. But if a part time subs for anyone they actually get paid. Many of our part timers like that extra money, so it's usually easy to get a sub when planned ahead of time. But if someone is sick that day, the class is just cancelled.

  4. We're supposed to inform the dean when we cancel a class due to illness, injury or other pressing circumstances. I've only twice in over twenty years had a conference conflict with class - both times I worked it into the schedule well in advance so that students were doing another activity. I've only ever asked a colleague to cover for me once and that was when my work visa didn't get renewed speedily enough (thank you, Canada Immigration!) so that I would have been eligible for deportation had I taught that Wednesday night class. *grr*

    I've covered a few times for colleagues. We also have M.A. students who can invigilate midterms or show films - another favourite "scheduled fill-in". The dean mostly wants to know when all of these no-shows are so she can see if anyone is abusing the system. Sad to say, I've heard that there are!

  5. saucyturtles4:25 PM

    Like Janice, we're supposed to let the provost know we're missing class and if there's a sub or something for the students to do in our absence. Subbing is arranged however we like, so we cover for eachother or pay outsiders to come in out of pocket or let an SI (sort of a TA) cover class.

  6. For a one-off absence that we know about in advance, we 1) cancel, 2) cancel with some non-in-class alternative, or 3) privately arrange a sub to proctor, show a film, give an exam, whatever. It's not reported to anyone. For an emergency, class is cancelled and notice given to students by the secretary.

    The only time we have a situation like the one you describe is for a longer-term absence: someone with a high-risk pregnancy gets assigned to bed rest, there's a sudden situation with a sick relative, etc. In those cases, either we get a series of subs, who are not compensated, or one person agrees to take the class on as an overload for two weeks or whatever it is. He or she gets compensated.

  7. I think theoretically we're supposed to get a sub, but most of the time we just cancel unless it's something both pre-arranged and potentially long-term, like jury duty. If you do cancel, I think you're supposed to arrange an alternate activity of some sort, but nobody is really checking up on that.