If a student has to use the bathroom, s/he may simply politely and quietly excuse him/herself for a few minutes.

But is there any established etiquette for what an instructor is to do when nature suddenly calls? Let's say this is a typical classroom lecture of about 90 minutes, meaning a student body of about 80-90 and no scheduled breaks.

Oh, also, let's assume that there's no real illness or other crippling circumstance that forces the instructor to leave; just a good old-fashioned porcelain inspection, resulting from consuming just a bit much V8 an hour earlier (seriously, that strawberry-banana V-Fusion is addictive).

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    Give the students an exercise. "Discuss this problem with the person sitting next to you. I'll be back in five minutes." – Thomas Jan 31 '16 at 19:40
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    Part of the usual etiquette is taking off the microphone, if any. – Klaus Draeger Jan 31 '16 at 22:59
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    Restroom before class. In 20 years of teaching, I've never had to leave a class for the restroom. (I did once become sufficiently ill to need an ambulance. I said, "Ladies and gentlemen, please excuse me; I am ill. Class is dismissed," and fled out the door.) – Bob Brown Feb 1 '16 at 0:34
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    I teach a 3.5 hour night class some terms. For a marathon like that you call breaks. The students need them every bit as much as you do. And you use the facilities during the breaks just like you use them before a normal class. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Feb 1 '16 at 5:01
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    If you can't hold it in for just 90 minutes then you might consider going to see your doctor. Nature does not usually "suddenly call" - you know when you ate, and you know when you drank, and you know where the restroom is before you step foot into the lecture hall. Unless you avoided going for a wee for several hours before the lecture despite feeling that you needed to, and subsequently drank lots of water, you should be fine for 90 minutes.. – Lightness Races in Orbit Feb 1 '16 at 11:55

Ideally, you use the bathroom before lecturing which should prevent you from needing the bathroom during the lecuture. In cases where you are unwell, I find it best to let the class know ahead of time to tell them you are unwell and might need to suddenly excuse yourself, but that you will be back.

Regardless of if you have told the students in advance, if you must excuse yourself, do it politely and tell them you will be back in a few moments.

  • I'm agreeing. There's really nothing too specific about this compared to any other job. If you're unable to do a job (regardless of how public your performance is), sometimes you just need to explain that you're excusing yourself, set any expectations that are required (like when you estimate that you'll be back), and then do whatever you have to do. People understand bathroom needs, medical needs, etc. It might be a less polished performance, and some people might be less forgiving of "imperfection" than others, but sometimes we imperfect people have to just do the best that we can. – TOOGAM Feb 1 '16 at 22:06

for my own classes, I prepare with anticipation: 1) an exercise that students could complete while I am away from the Classroom or 2) show an instructional video and ask students to fill a questionnaire at the end to evaluate their comprehension of the presentation.

If there is no need to use these resources, then I just left them as assignment for next class.

Ideally, in our 21st century, every teacher should be able to record their own classes in video. In case of an unexpected emergency, students watch this lesson's recording, at least in that day.


A plausible reason is if the instructor becomes ill, and this manifests partway through a lecture.

In this case, the only thing they can do is politely explain that they are unwell.

If a teaching assistant is on hand, they may be able to take over the lecture. If not, they may choose to invite the students to use the room and time remaining for self instruction. At the university level, students should, as a group, be able to fill in the blanks for a missed half lecture.

In either case, a follow up email indicating that the next class either will or will not precede as scheduled is probably a good idea. This may include information on a time, or times, when the professor will be available to provide clarification on the subjects that were unexpectedly omitted. It should probably not include the details of the illness, unless it is sufficiently serious as to merit inclusion to explain why the professor is changing mid-semester.

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