The Importance of Padding

Snow day.
Email server down.
Flooding in the computer lab.
Broken projector.
Murphy’s Law is one of the realities of teaching.

One time I completely lost my voice before an important class and had to lecture entirely without speaking. It took a custom-made presentation and lots of pantomime, but it worked.

I can’t really teach most of my courses without a computer and projector, so being prepared for the worst is important. It’s like bringing an umbrella. Or wearing a sweatshirt to the movies. With any luck, the act of carrying that stuff will make sure it won’t rain or be ungodly cold while sitting with your overpriced popcorn. But if it is? You’ll feel a lot better than your drenched, freezing movie-going friends.

I covet this couch. It's a stretch for a post on padding, but whatever. It looks padded, right? Right.
I covet this couch. It’s a stretch for a post on padding, but whatever. It looks padded, right? Right.

How to add the metaphorical layers to your syllabus? padding. Its not a bad thing. It’s a necessity. Reject padding at your VERY REAL risk. As I noted above, unexpected problems happen all the time, and that’s before user error (like forgetting the flash drive with your slides in your office, or forgetting your password that the university inexplicably makes you update all the time.)

What kind of padding do I mean? My minimum standard:

  • 10 minutes per class for questions, logistics, taking attendance, returning exams, etc. Better to end class early once in a while rather than rushing all the time.
  • At least two class meetings of filler, especially in the spring semester. I usually do this with review sessions and stretching out some topics to two days. Worst case scenario: review sessions and training can be done outside of class, and the stretched topics can be condensed again.

This year, I lost multiple class meetings to snow days. What makes it even tougher is when it happens later in the semester. It’s much easier to condense and rearrange early. Anyway, review sessions and planning for days that are short is essential to make sure you’re not stuck rushing through crucial material right before exams. And knowing some apps for making quick online tutorials can be a lifesaver, too. I made one for my midterm this year since the review session had to be cancelled. That way I lost one day but not two.

So, in short: padding. I know it sounds bad, like cheating, almost, but it’s not. It’s how you make sure your semester doesn’t fall apart next time there’s a fire alarm or the power goes out or there’s an earthquake or…

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