I have been appointed to teach one course in Artificial Intelligence in one university. The reason was that the main lecturer is involved in other duties and for that reason he could not teach one group (there are two groups actually). The thing is that this lecturer has given me all the material: slides, exercises, exams, practices, final project and so on; and he told me explicitly to follow that material.

I have been always a big fan of the freedom of teaching. I mean I believe that if two different lecturers teach course X; then it would be better if they can get two different approaches for the same topics. The Faculty academic coordinator has told me that I must follow the material exactly, because the examinations would be the same for both groups.

I wonder what to do in this situation? I am keen to take published material as a reference for a course, but not to follow all the material exactly from the other lecturer like if I were some sort of "academic monkey" (that only mimics what the other has made). I really feel frustrated about this situation and I do not know what to do.

Usually when I have gotten into this situation, in which I had to drop one group and that group has been assigned to another lecturer. I have given him/her full freedom, and only we gather around for making the practices and exams together. I really believe that is the correct way to do this things.

Any advice?

PD Some clarification points:

  • The other lecturer and myself be both have the same rank, I mean we both are lecturers, only difference is that the other lecturer has taught the course before and that is why he was appointed coordinator of only that course.
  • In academic ranks, I got more academic background in CS (two master's already done); in the other hand he is a die hard programmer programmer that has participated in programming contests, but that's it. He has only a bachelor in Information Systems.
  • The material handed to me is simple, but it gets to my nerves that I must stick completely to it. I mean if a student is well prepared and every teacher follows the syllabic contents; then at the end it does not matter who made the final examinations. The student should be prepare for everything (except that the course is about, for example a Java certification, and I do not teach Java, but C). The point is that is a CS related course, and for that it should relies more in the algorithmic part that on some tricky-twisty programming stuff that tough programmers know.
  • 8
    If the final examination is common, the lectures must share a common spine. It is important to cover all the fundamentals and basics from a common set of notes. You may however improvise/include material based on your research/other books as an addendum. I have done this for undergraduate courses I have instructed with common final exams and such. A lot of material I cover as addenda are innovative approaches to using the same fundamentals described in the core/common notes. I am assuming that this is an undergraduate/bachelors level course?
    – dearN
    Mar 18, 2014 at 16:22
  • thanks @drN, yes, it is an undergraduate course
    – Layla
    Mar 18, 2014 at 16:37
  • 1
    What advice to give depends also on your own status at the university in question: if you are being hired as a part-time/adjunct instructor of this one course, then you have been hired to do a very specific job, and while in principle you still have "academic freedom", in practice it seems reasonable to teach the course as they are asking you to. If you have a more permanent position at the university, then the request to teach the course exactly as some other instructor wants you to seems much less reasonable, although there are still some nuances involved. Mar 18, 2014 at 20:26
  • @PeteL.Clark What I would add based on your pertinent comment and my experience when I was a "temporary instructor" is that the academic freedom I recvd to re-construct a course was also because of the open-mindedness of my department and their faith in me. I suppose this ends up being a multi-dimensional optimization problem? What quantum of your own essence you could add to a course? =)
    – dearN
    Mar 18, 2014 at 21:33
  • How's he gonna know if you don't do what he says? Just by virtue of being a different person you're going to teach the class "differently" no matter what you do.
    – Raydot
    May 6, 2015 at 18:39

2 Answers 2


In Academia there is always a lot of egos involved. Do not take it personal and let your ego get in the way. As you admit, you are not the main lecturer. He is. He prepared the slides, exercises, exams, practices, final project and so on. Excellent. Less work / stress for you. It is not your time to shine. In any job (academia or not) you must learn how to play "second fiddle" if needed. And this is one of these times.

On the other hand, teaching is much more than the slides, exercises, final project or exams. It is the teacher's personality, how he is in sync with the classroom needs, how to make the students participate in the course and how to make the lesson an unforgettable experience. You can and must try to do all these, regardless of the slides you use. So you can still make all the students want to watch your lecture (instead of his) if that is what it takes to boost your ego. Although it clearly is not a competition. It is just a job. So, do it as best as you can with the tools you are given. It is really that simple.


From the comments I see, there is too much focus on "No-one should tell how to teach...". But this is not really the point. If professor B was supposed to teach both lectures and due to a newly assigned duty he cannot, would not that be impolite / inconsiderate for the new professor (Layla) not to give her (at least) the materials and slides he uses? If someone steps in for me, I would most certainly do all the necessary work for my coleague to have the most seamless transition by alleviating some of the stress /work for preparing lectures / slides, exercises. And if I was the subsitute I would appreciate this offer. Why must egos be involved in such a process and why should anyone not accept the offer given? If this situation continues for the next semester - year, Layla should have a saying on how the lecture should be done. But for this year I do not see the point in making too much fuss over it.

  • Does "the main lecturer" mean something technically specific to you? I don't really understand what it means: what I can see is that there are two sections, each taught by one person. Why does the OP necessarily need to play second fiddle to the other person? (Maybe she does, but I don't see enough specific information in her post about this.) Mar 18, 2014 at 20:42
  • Yes it does. Many times in my country (Europe) there is one main professor (in charge of a lecture) but the students are split in separate lectures or labs (because they are too many for one classroom). So, he is in charge of what should be taught (within the syllabus) and where to focus most.
    – Alexandros
    Mar 18, 2014 at 20:46
  • But the OP describes a situation in which roles are reversed and she did the opposite thing. So it is not clear (to me) that the other lecturer has any seniority over her. If there is an instructor giving a lecture and a TA giving something else, that's one thing. But if it's just one person telling someone else what to do: why does the other person have to listen? Should they? Mar 18, 2014 at 20:54
  • 1
    Layla didn't say that she hasn't taught the course before, but let's assume that she hasn't. Are you really saying that the right way to handle multiple sections taught by different instructors is for whoever has taught that course the most times to tell everyone else exactly what to do?!? That is not the way things work at any university I've ever been involved with: even adjuncts, graduate students and other extremely temporary and inexperienced instructors have some degree of autonomy. Mar 18, 2014 at 21:02
  • 1
    For instance, when I was a 23 year old graduate student instructor, our courses would have common homework and exams. That meant that we met regularly to write the exams together. There was a course head who was a permanent faculty member, sometimes a very famous and senior professor, but never did such a person say "You must cover exactly this material: use these slides." What is the point of having an instructor at all if they have no autonomy and creative control? Mar 18, 2014 at 21:06

Honestly, I think your role in this situation is precisely to be an "academic monkey". The other lecturer presumably wanted to teach both groups so that both would have access to his particular teaching style, including his expertise regarding what topics are most important and how to explain them. But he could not do so because he was too busy. So he does the next best thing: he brings in another lecturer, i.e. you, with the expectation that you will give the students a similar experience to what he would have given them. Make no mistake, emulating another lecturer's style is not an easy task, and the fact that he wants you to stick to his prepared materials does not reflect a lack of faith in your abilities (just in case you were thinking that).

In general, when there are different lecturers teaching different, disjoint sets of students, I think the benefit of having different lecturing styles is largely negated. After all, the main reason to have different styles of teaching is that different styles appeal to different people, and a concept that an individual student misses from one style, they may pick up from another. That only works if the students attend multiple lectures with different instructors. (Or if you manage to sort students by their learning styles and match up each one with the instructor that best suits them, but that is very difficult.) And in this case, if the main lecturer will be preparing the exam(s), it seems natural that he will do so according to his own teaching style, which means students who were not exposed to his style will be at a disadvantage. So it's really in the best interest of your students for you to emulate his style as closely as possible, which means using his materials and structure.

To be clear, this answer and my first paragraph in particular is intended for the situation where the other lecturer is in charge of the course and, in your capacity as a lecturer of the course, you are acting as his direct subordinate. If that's not the case, my answer doesn't apply.

  • 3
    I don't really follow the logic in your first paragraph. Last semester I was teaching a section of linear algebra. I asked for two sections but was only given one. If I went to the person who was teaching the other section and said, "Sorry, I didn't get to teach this section but here is how I am teaching the other section. Please teach it the same way" then he would look at me like I was crazy...or better yet, respond with the exact same request. Mar 18, 2014 at 20:31
  • 1
    Just because someone else is teaching a course a certain way is not a good enough reason for you or me to teach a different section of the course in the same way. There are some issues of compatibility between sections but what the OP has been asked to do seems to go way beyond that. Even when I cover someone else's class for a day or a week, I am usually given rather specific instructions on what I could do and then told that I can do something else along the same lines if I want. I say the same thing to those who cover my classes. "Trained monkey"ing requires some justification. Mar 18, 2014 at 20:34
  • Sorry, I read the question a bit more carefully and deleted my last comment because it does not apply in this situation. Mar 18, 2014 at 20:41
  • @PeteL.Clark in the situation mentioned in your first comment, were you in charge of the entire course, in particular maintaining creative control, except that you were prohibited from directly teaching one of the sections? If not, I don't think your situation is the same as the OP's, and also my first paragraph isn't meant to apply to you in that case.
    – David Z
    Mar 18, 2014 at 20:43
  • 1
    @Alexandros: The reason that I or anyone else doesn't teach all the courses that I don't teach in any given semester is because I am involved in other duties. I am having a lot of trouble wrapping my mind around "I was supposed to teach this course, but I'm not because I'm doing something else, so I will tell you how to teach it exactly the way I would." Doesn't the person who is actually teaching the course have the authority and the control, not the person who would have taught it except for XYZ? Mar 18, 2014 at 20:57

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .