One subject I teach is also taught by another teacher at my university. Usually we do not both teach this subject during the same semester but sometimes we do. Students do not get to choose their teacher, the are assigned into one class or the other.

This has introduced a strange dynamic in that some of the other teacher's students have come to me asking for information about the subject, since they know I also teach it. So far, I've been quite hesitant to answer any such questions because I am worried about getting in between the other teacher and his students. I can imagine that I might have an answer that is different than the other teacher (perhaps my answer is wrong, perhaps my answer is right, and perhaps both of us are right but we have different ways of looking at a problem). The issue is compounded by the fact that I am from the West but the other teacher is Asian so there are cultural issues at play here (and I'm in Asia so it's not my culture).

I imagine this would be less of an issue in subjects like math where there is a specific formula but in management subjects the perspective of the teacher can change things significantly, especially if one teacher might be less strong in the subject than the other.

So, what should a teacher in this situation do? Refer the student to their teacher? If they feel they cannot get an acceptable answer then refer them to a search engine? Should I jump in if they feel they are lost and their teacher is not helping them understand (this seems like it could cause serious problems, even if handled well)?

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    I do not teach so I am not coming from a personal experience, but have you tried to express your confusion or hesitation to your colleague/fellow teacher over a cup of coffee or in a similar (read: casual) atmosphere? He/she might have some insight as to how to handle that situation, besides then you'd have you'd be out in the open with it.
    – posdef
    May 20, 2013 at 10:55
  • I presume you're using English to teach the class. Is the other instrucor also using English to teach? Or the student's native language?
    – Nobody
    May 21, 2013 at 7:31
  • @scaaahu Yes, we both teach in English.
    – earthling
    May 21, 2013 at 8:48
  • I've been a student in this situation a few times. Short version, my instructor wasn't as experienced as the other instructor. Having had the other instructor, he gave clear, concise, helpful answers. My current instructor required a lengthy dialog to get unclear, unfocused partial answers. Eventually, I just stopped talking to my current instructor. If my current instructor was the only option, I would have hated that class, wouldn't have learned as much and would have complained as high as I could up the chain. To get an instructor that can actually teach for a course I'm paying a lot for. Nov 18, 2014 at 16:06

3 Answers 3


My first question is, why are you (the faculty) both teaching the same class at the same university without talking to each other? I can understand the cultural differences, but this is even more of a reason to talk to your colleague about the class!

I would suggest (as posdef does in his comment) to talk to the other instructor about the class, offer to have him sit in on your class, and ask about collaboration. You could also ask to sit in on his class if you'd like, but you need to be careful to phrase your request so it is clear that you're there to gain insight into his class and not to provide criticism. I can't tell from your comment, "...if one teacher might be less strong in the subject than the other" if you believe he is the weak one or if you are, but regardless, you can both learn from each other.

Finally, it is in the best interest of both classes of students that you collaborate with the other instructor -- if both courses are listed as the same in the course catalog, the students should be able to expect that the class will cover roughly the same material.


You mentioned you’re from the West teaching in Asia. The school invited you from the West to teach while they already have instructors who can teach the same subject. I would think they all want to learn from you. Here, they are not only the students but also the faculty.

As posdef suggested in his comment, I would talk to the other instructor in some kind of informal meetings if I were you. You can talk to him about the class, the students and the department. You two are teaching the same course. There must be a lot of things you can share. In particular, you can ask him exactly this question and see what kind of solutions he would recommend. I think he would have a more insightful answer than most users on this site because he is in the same environment as you are.

Whether or not the other instructor is willing to talk to you is another issue. From what I know, most Asians are nice to the guests. If you are there for a tenure track position, he might see you as a competition. Then I think you should handle this matter in a formal manner. If you are not there on a permanent basis, I think informal meetings would be enough.

The most important thing is, what is the best interests for the students? Many Asian students believe there is always only one standard correct answer for every question. We know this is not always the case. Even for math related subjects, you can have multiple approaches to solve a problem. I suspect the students from the other class came to you to confirm the answer given by their instructor is the standard one. If that’s the case, you and the other instructor need to coordinate. Both need to explain to the students that there may not be only one standard answer per every question.

If the students came to you because they doubt their instructor or they don't get acceptable answers, you need to handle this with care. Respecting the teachers is an integral part of Asian culture. However, the best interests for the students is even more important. Talking to the other instructor in person is the first step to resolve this issue. You two together need to figure out how to tell the students the correct answers. Again, learning together is everybody’s goal.


[Edit] I'm assuming the questions asked are not ones where there is a consensus about the answers.

Here's the advice I give to students who come to me from the another instructors of the courses I also teach (sometimes the other instructors are teaching assistants): The person grading your exams is the other instructor, therefore it's in your best interest to get the answers from the other instructor.

The answer sounds perhaps like we're brushing off the student, but if we contradict the other instructor, it won't help the student.

Put yourself in the shoes of the other instructor. What if a student answered an exam question according to advice from the other instructor, but out of context, or according to another perspective. How would you grade it if you disagreed with the answer or point of view?

I teach software analysis and design at an undergrad level. Some students rarely come to class and answer questions based on analysis or design methods they used before. Some get upset when I qualify all questions "according to the process learned in class" because they can't write any old answer from their past experience. One instructor's style or method could be different (not necessarily wrong). But much of the evaluation in a course is based on what the student learned in that course.

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    This attitude seems very strange to me. I agree with the reminder that the other instructor's judgment is the one that counts, but that doesn't justify not answering the student's questions. Hearing multiple perspectives on the same material is a good thing for the students. What if a student answered an exam question... according to another perspective? If their answer is correct? Extra credit!!
    – JeffE
    May 20, 2013 at 15:17
  • @JeffE If it were a question about the complexity of a sorting algorithm, I'd answer. If it's a question about how to find domain objects from requirements (use cases), that's not so black and white. There is no consensus on what is the best way. I see this as the same problem in Management style discussed by the OP. May 20, 2013 at 15:21
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    Maybe this is a cultural difference, but even if the grading criteria are subjective, I don't see any harm in telling students "Here is my perspective, but be warned that your instructor's may be different."
    – JeffE
    May 20, 2013 at 15:25
  • 2
    @JeffE Not a bad way to qualify an answer. However, I have had a few students who will invest huge energy to exploit contradictions between instructors for full "drama" potential, with complaints to department chairs, etc. I have seen it happen with colleagues, and had it happen to me early on when TAs or lab instructors are in contradiction. The students aren't always motivated in seeking the truth, but rather seeking maximum points. May 20, 2013 at 15:40
  • That's why you need the warning (and a supportive department chair).
    – JeffE
    May 20, 2013 at 15:44

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