Preparing for Fall: Choose Your ICE contact

You probably have an In Case of Emergency (ICE) contact in your cell phone–the person to be called if you have a heart attack on the street, the number accessible even if your phone is locked.

You need one for Fall 2020 teaching.

It’s possible that you, as a teacher, will become ill in the fall, too ill to teach your class, possibly for many months. For those who recover from COVID, the process is long. You may need to take FMLA or other kinds of leave. While you are not required–and no administrator should even ask you to–secure your own substitute, you may wish to plan for this situation now anyway.

The possibility of your own illness is a reason to design your online course to be asynchronous. If you design an asynchronous course and make all decisions, record all lectures and demonstrations, and design all assessments prior to the launch of the course in August, then should you fall ill, the person who teaches the course while you are on leave will be able to carry out your vision for the course rather than to infer it from the materials you left. This will also allow colleagues who may not have your content expertise but who are able facilitators to focus their attention on guiding class discussion, answering individual questions, and working with students on their individual projects for the course. Even if you cannot do all the prep work for all your classes before August, if you can prep some of the courses completely, the hand-off to a sub will be smoother.

This isn’t just a courtesy to your long-term sub, though: it’s respectful of students who don’t deserve to have a course that starts strong fizzle out because your replacement wasn’t given time to prepare the course.

In saying this, I want to be clear that if you fall sick, what happens to your class and students is your employer’s responsibility. It’s one of the justifications for why chairs and deans earn more money than faculty members: they have to manage the risk. It is never appropriate for an administrator to ask a faculty member to find their own replacement if they take leave.

At the same time, you may wish to plan for your replacement by thinking now of who in your department or which colleague at another university would be a good suitable replacement for you so that you have some control over what the classroom experience for your students. This is, in a larger sense, an effort at job security: students were amazingly empathetic and flexible Spring 2020, but they will be less so in Fall 2020, after we’ve had a summer to prepare. If large numbers of their teachers fall sick (much more likely if campuses do re-open), then lack of planning could result in a repeat of the disorder of Fall 2020 and diminish Spring 2021 enrollment. Additionally, if Fall 2020’s courses are prerequisites for future courses that you teach, you may wish to ensure that your own future courses don’t have to begin with remediation because Fall 2020’s classes aren’t adequate preparation.

In other words, it may be worth your time to recommend a Fall 2020 sub.

If it’s not, then don’t worry about it; again, it will be your chair or dean’s job.

If you do think it best to identify your own ICE, I recommend selecting someone before you begin designing your Fall courses–an advanced graduate student in the case of lower-level undergrad courses (since such students may not be permitted to teach higher level courses), a peer within your institution, a colleague in the same discipline elsewhere, or a recently retired professor who might be willing to return to the online classroom for part of the semester.

A Friend in Need by Emile Auguste Hublin

Above, Emile Auguste Hublin’s A Friend in Need (1879) shows a young farm maid offering a handful of greens to a little goat who rests in the straw; the goat is covered in a red cloth with a blue patch on it.

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