Teaching strategies: Responding to Hurricane Florence (and other disasters)

by Julie Dodd

As a professor at the University of Florida, I’ve experienced several major hurricanes  during the academic term and know how such disasters can impact students and course plans.

Hurricane Florence imageI’d like to offer a few suggestions for instructors who are now dealing with the impact of Hurricane Florence — or for instructors who have to deal with other kinds of disasters that affect your students and your classes.

Keep up to date with your university’s policies regarding the emergency.

Universities typically are prompt in sending announcements to faculty about developments in response to a disaster – when the university is closed, what resources are available, etc.

If you’re an adjunct faculty member or a teaching assistant, you may not be receiving those announcements. Be sure to check the university’s website and ask a faculty member to keep you up to date with developments.

Realize that a major disaster, like Hurricane Florence, will affect students in many different ways — from emotional to financial.

Students in the path of a hurricane may have had their apartments or residence halls flooded and lost all their belongs, including laptops, textbooks and class materials.

Your university may be hundreds of miles from the disaster, but your students may have family/friends living in the path of the disaster.

Following coverage of the hurricane (or fire or other disaster) – through the news or social media — can affect our students’ (and our own) sleep and emotions.

University plans in response to Hurricane Florence. Posted Sept. 16, 2018.

Four major hurricanes hit Florida in 2004 (Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne). Several of the hurricanes had an impact on Gainesville (where the University of Florida is located), knocking out power for thousands of residents and flooding sections of town.

But the bigger impact was for students whose families lived in Florida in locations that were severely damaged by the hurricanes. Family homes were destroyed. Family businesses — from orange groves to hotels — were lost. Businesses where their parents were employed were, at least temporarily, closed, meaning financial hardships. Family pets were lost.

Remember that effects of a disaster will impact some students throughout the semester (and beyond).

Alert students to university assistance programs.

You can make annnouncements in your course management system (and your social media) for campus resources that is available for students who need support — from housing to those who need a counselor to talk with. Include URLs and phone numbers.

Universities and community groups typically work to provide needed emergency housing, food and financial assistance for students in need after an emergency like Hurricane Florence. Share that information with your students.

Some students will need to visit family members who live in hurricane-hit areas. Know what the process is at your university for students receiving university approval for absences from class for such emergency visits and relay that information to the students.

Make adjustments to your syllabus and class plans.

Some students will have difficulty getting back into the school routine – including the demands of studying – after a disaster. You may need to adjust a test date or the due date for a major assignment.

Universities in the path of Hurricane Florence will be closed a week. Consider how you can adjust the syllabus, realizing that you may have to omit a topic or an assignment. That can present challenges as you decide what you can omit that won’t have an impact on the next course in a sequence that the students will be taking. You may have to reschedule guest speakers.

You can post the revised syllabus online and talk with your students about the adjustments you’ve made.

I’ve had students who boasted that they held hurricane parties as a hurricane approached or drove to the beach to surf in the big waves. But those students are the exception.

Most students will be experiencing hurricane-related problems or will be helping family and friends who were affected by the hurricane.

Keep learning progressing, but demonstrate your concern about how a disaster affects your students and how you can assist them.

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