Build Your Own Sick Leave

Infectious bronchitis virus D-RNA

OMG, am I sick. Sick, sick, sick. This is the worst respiratory infection I’ve had in my life, and given that I’ve lived since Methuselah’s day, that makes it the worst in a long and illustrious line of miserable ailments.

Adjuncts don’t get sick leave at my institution. Bet they don’t at any institutions, huh? Anybody out there get sick leave? If we don’t show up for class (and the department finds out about it), we don’t get paid.

Well, I can’t afford to lose a day or two of pay, no matter how sick I am. Last month I ran $500 over budget when I had an expensively messy and workful tree removed. So far this month I’ve spent $100 on prescriptions, OTC nostrums, and a steamer, and the Mayo (where my quack resides) does not take Medicare assignment, meaning the trip to see his resident and the later six-hour sojourn in the ER will ultimately end up costing another $300 or $400. Of course no pay came in during December, and so these costs are having to come straight from savings, which fast dwindles toward naught.

All of which is to say the only things that would keep me away from the classroom this week were unconsciousness or imprisonment.

It was raw luck that during the semester break I’d arranged to have the Tuesday classes listen to a dog & pony show by one of the librarians. Amazingly, my calendar also had some video-watching scheduled for today. Must be some sort of prescience.

ESP or not, thank God for the videos I linked to this semester’s 102 course. No way in Hell could I have talked for three hours today. I couldn’t even call the roll—had to pass around a sign-up sheet.

By serendipity (or supernatural intervention), then, I learned an important lesson this week: Always have a fall-back plan up your sleeve! Your adjunct bag of tricks should contain activities or videos that can keep your classes busy when you’re just too sick to function.

One obvious source of videos is YouTube. A lot of people who are teaching online record their lectures on YouTube and then link to them through BlackBoard, or whatever CMS their school uses. Go to YouTube.com and search topics related to your course. You’ll be surprised how many come up.

Quality is spotty. Some are very good. Some…well, let’s just hope those people’s students don’t know about Rate My Professor. I found a set of three videos on MLA style on YouTube that certainly are no worse than my own harangues and probably are better. At least if speaking made me cough until I gag, as it’s doing today, I could play this for them instead of trying to lecture.

Colleagues and random sources may also bring good videos to your attention. Don’t recall where i heard about Michael Shermer’s Baloney Detection Kit, but I use it every semester to kick off discussion of source credibility.

Cable and broadcast TV shows, preserved online for posterity, can also be useful. This episode of The Daily Show gets the kids’ attention (it’s freaking hilarious!) and it’s perfect for discussing logical thinking, fallacies, and the uses thereof.

PBS, of course, is a rich source of documentaries. Some longer PBS shows are posted in 10-minute segments at the PBS site. Today, for example, we used the first and second segments of a show on the Great Depression to bring classmates up to speed on the 1929 stock market crash and the conditions leading up to it. Conveniently, the first writing assignment is an extended definition—and these two videos are awash in extended definition. We learn what a stock is, what a stock market is, what a stock market pool is, and on and on. Their homework is to review these videos and come to class next Tuesday prepared to discuss a) parallels between conditions leading up to the 1929 crash and those leading up to our most recent economic collapse, and b) examples of extended definition they spotted in the videos.

Another great source of free recorded lecture material is iTunes University. This site is a gold mine of presentations, many from very distinguished scholars, on every subject you can think of. Whether you teach math, physics, geology, biology, literature, history, art…whatever…you can find something here to pass your students’ time constructively.

The point is, before you get sick develop a treasure trove of material you can pull out and use when you’re not feeling well enough to talk. Stash the links in BlackBoard, in Google Docs, or on your own Website, so you can always access them, and keep a list in your teaching folder. Then when push comes to shove, you can always find something relevant to what your students are doing.

Image: Predicted secondary structure and sequence conservation of IBV_R-DNA. Taken from the Rfam database, which is completely in the public domain.

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