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Tell the students why there are delays?

Started by Hegemony, August 01, 2023, 12:06:14 AM

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I'm teaching an intensive summer class online (asynchronous). There are two assignments per week that have to be graded by hand (not by the LMS). Normally I turn those around within a day or two, because the class goes so fast that it helps the students to have immediate feedback —- not to mention that if I get behind, the grading piles up horribly.

Unfortunately I've had a series of calamities this week. I was in an accident, got taken to the hospital in an ambulance, and so on — a whole day taken up on this — and the diagnosis is that I have fractured my knee. So I am basically immobile, using a walker to get short distances, like from the bed to the bathroom, and I have to go in to get looked at further to see if they want to operate.

On top of this I came down with Covid. (Not from the hospital — I was wearing a mask — I was at a crowded event last week and had a bad feeling, and sure enough.) So I currently I have a temperature of 102.6 and am sleeping 23 hours out of the day. Also I am abroad. As the song goes, "Here's a pretty mess."

So the grading has been severely delayed. The question is: should I say anything to the students about why their assignments are not being graded? Or should I just let them think it's the regular old slow grading which happens in many classes anyway? Normally I feel that griping about my life to students is imposing on them inappropriately, but I just don't know in this case.


Katrina Gulliver

I hope you're recovering, but it sounds like you're still going through it with covid etc.

I think there's no reason not to give the students a general update (tell them you were in an accident, and therefore might be slower than usual responding to messages etc).

I wouldn't specifically talk about the grading unless they ask, just because you can make a rod for your own back (if you say "I'll do it by Wednesday", and then you cannot, you'll have students annoyed: and if you say "it'll be slower than usual" you'll get "how slow??" responses).

It also sounds like a situation in which you could perhaps get some help with grading/teaching given your illness! An intensive summer session class (which this sounds like) doesn't have much built in downtime.

Get well soon!


Really sorry you're going through all that! I would certainly them them-- students expect extensions when they are ill or injured, and should be understanding when you need the same. In general, I think it's good to remind students that their professors are human too.

Is there any way you can get some grading help? Here, the department could probably quickly hire a temporary grad student grader in an extenuating situation like this, even if the class was too small to normally be assigned a have a TA.
"Never get separated from your lunch. Never get separated from your friends. Never climb up anything you can't climb down."
–Best Colorado Peak Hikes


That's a thought, though the bureaucracy of the university is so slow that the course could well be over before a grader is arranged.


Sorry to hear about your situation and I hope you get well soon.

To some degree, the answer depends on the relationship you have with your students and the type of course and your own policies. In my classes, I do not require extensive documentation if a student is ill and I try to have a good relationship with my students (who tend to take several courses with me over several years). So I would just say something like, "I am sorry that I have not been able to grade your assignments as quickly as I like; I have been dealing with some health issues and I hope to get them done as soon as possible."

Part of the answer also depends on how far behind grading you are/will be. If it is a little bit, and this is not uncommon in your course, you might not need to say anything. If it is a significant amount of grading, or if you are always very quick, you might want to say something so the students do not worry. As indicated in the other thread about mid-life education, I have taken several online courses over the years, and it is not uncommon for professors to grade work late. Some professors are REALLY slow, so students might not even notice if you are a little bit late. Also, it depends on whether this is a compressed course. Being a week late in a six-week course is different than being a week late in a 14-week course.

The other thing to consider is if the illness/accident is going to impact your presence (as it were) in the class. If you usually post and participate frequently, but you cannot really do that now (which is understandable), you might say something.

You might consider giving them some extra time to turn in the next assignments or reducing/eliminating some assignment(s). This would both take some pressure of you, and also lessen the stress on the students. Of course, this is not always desirable or possible, depending on the course.


I was co-teaching a course with someone who was ill. This person didn't do any of the grading until the last 2 weeks of the regular semester -- there were reasonable excuses, and they shared some general info with students.

I thought it was a problem to leave it so late to grade. Students deserve to know how they are doing so they can plan ahead. But only one student complained to the chair and nothing happened.

Sometimes things are less than ideal and not much can be done to rectify the situation. A little communication with students helps to gain some good will from them.
"When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."—Sinclair Lewis



Unfortunately I am the head of my department, and it is such a small department that there is no assistant chair. I can hardly stay awake half an hour at a time as it is, and I think trying to find and arrange for a grad student or similar to take on the grading is simply beyond my capacity, helpful as it would be. I am also trying to manage a number of complications (like, it seems that I have broken some ribs, plus there is an emergency with my son developing on the other side of the world, and I am the only parent — his father and all relatives are dead). Jeepers, what a perfect storm of suckitude.


You need to give yourself the same courtesy you would extend to other members of your department if this cluster of misfortunes happened to them. I doubt you would expect one of your colleagues to carry on without help if they were in an accident/had COVID/had a family emergency/etc.
If the university proper cannot provide help quickly enough, could you call on a colleague to step in quickly while you recover? Or kick it up to the dean? What would they do if you were unconscious?
As far as students go, I would let them know in general terms that there are serious circumstances beyond your control that may affect some aspects of the course. But, honestly, you shouldn't be worried about teaching right now. You should be focused on getting better.


Ugh, I'm so sorry.

I think you should let them know, in the most general terms, that you had an accident and are ill, and that you won't be able to mark their assignments for some time. You don't need to commit to a timeline now; you can always update them later when you have a better idea.

And, really, you can always default to just giving everyone an A. They won't get the feedback, sure, but you're not in a position to give them feedback at the moment. There's no shame in calling it pass/fail and moving on. When you're ready and able to do so, of course. Not now!
I know it's a genus.


Hope you get better soon.

I'd let them know. Can't hurt and may preempt emails asking when their grades will be posted.