One of my professors is quite enthusiastic about teaching the subject. He often deviates from the main content and gets lost in details vastly beside or beyond the matter at hand - which is interesting, though not immediately helpful.

Effectively, this means that he regularly fails to complete the day's chapter. To compensate, he always overruns on time (15 minutes are not unusual at all).

Despite that, he failed to finish several chapters that (according to him) were intended to be taught (and indeed have been in the year before), and did not discuss or even provide solutions to previous homework due to lack of time in class.

I'm looking for advice how to deal with this situation. How can we make him stick to relevant content?

My fear is that the students will a) lack knowledge from missing several chapters, leading to future problems in subsequent courses and b) have worse conditions to succeed in this course's exam, as they lack relevant information and experience.

I'm baffled how he is able to continue like this - he clearly noticed the problem and also apologized to the students about it several times, but did not yet change his habits at all.

As I have already talked to him about other problems before, which he is attempting to fix now, I do not want to "complain" to him again if possible. I'm also a bit unsure what that would accomplish, seeing that he appears to be completely unable to keep his lectures on point.

If the students were to talk to the department head, is he likely to take action, or is this rather within the professors individual judgement? If they do, I'm clueless to imagine how he would take it.

Regarding the missing homework solutions, I considered requesting written solutions to the tasks we failed to look at in class. However, this kind of exercise does not benefit from just solutions and instead requires explanations.

  • 13
    If you want to learn more than is covered in class, you should learn independently. I'm skeptical that "covering all the chapters" is better than "getting lost in the details." It depends on the purpose of the class. Commented May 12, 2016 at 5:14
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    Have you considered actually reading the chapters he doesn't cover thoroughly? If you did that, you'd be able to ask questions about anything the reading didn't make clear.
    – Bob Brown
    Commented May 13, 2016 at 12:54
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    You don't have a right to be spoon-fed the material. There is a reason you have a textbook. You need to change your unreasonable expectations.
    – user1482
    Commented May 16, 2016 at 14:51
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    There have been many helpful answers and comments so far, and I'll certainly be able to cope with the situation. To be more clear in this question though, I want to clarify: We are talking about missing large parts of what should be included in the course. Imagine an Analysis I course that is missing derivatives because we're still (without need) learning how the natural numbers work. So in my opinion this is less about spoon-feeding.
    – mafu
    Commented May 16, 2016 at 20:22
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    I disagree with the close vote as off-topic. This question can be easily extended to graduate school classes.
    – Nobody
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 8:36

5 Answers 5


I would encourage you to view this not as poor teaching style, necessarily, but as a particular teaching style which may not suit you.

You should not take for granted the fact that this teacher actually seems to care about the material and be excited about it. That is a great opportunity for you to learn and you should take advantage of it if you can. Ask questions, try to gain some of this person's intuition and insight into the topic - you are probably paying for access to this professor, and this is a way to learn things you cannot learn from the book.

You should describe the teaching style in any reviews you submit about the course or professor. Some students would love the type of course you describe, and some (such as yourself) will not find that it meets their needs. This is the proper way to give feedback. Complaining to the administration will probably not be effective because the professor is not doing anything wrong (except perhaps running classes too long), just adopting a particular teaching style.

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    I normally tried to end my classes a couple of minutes early out of consideration to students who had to move between buildings. I accidentally ran over time at the start of one semester because the schedule blocks had changed and a student who later graduated with a summa, put up a hand. "Dr. Brown, what time is this class supposed to end?" Polite but pointed.
    – Bob Brown
    Commented Mar 14, 2021 at 17:22

Is this graduate school? Then I have to recommend sucking it up and covering the chapters on your own. This is a point in your education when you should be learning material mostly independently, with professors to guide you. In this case the professor provides guidance by selecting a book, designing a syllabus and course outline telling you what you are expected to learn, plus you get interesting lectures that deviate from the material of the book. He is hopefully also willing and able to answer questions through email or in office hours.

If his teaching style doesn't agree with you, then you can avoid taking courses from him in the future. But you should completely be able to learn the course material without having it explicitly covered in lecture.

  • It is an undergrad course, though I'm about to enter a Master's program, and would like to keep visiting his classes there. Good points either way.
    – mafu
    Commented May 16, 2016 at 11:57
  • @mafu This site is about academia, not undergraduate study. Questions about being taught are considered on-topic if they apply to graduate level course, but not really if they are only applicable to undergraduate level.
    – Jessica B
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 6:31
  • @JessicaB I believe the exact same situation will occur next semester in the Master's program.
    – mafu
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 17:41
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    From Wikipedia: «Academia is the internationally recognized establishment of professional scholars and students, usually centered on colleges and universities». Talking about bachelor studies is on topic. Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 10:50

First, you should realize that what the professor intends (hopes) to teach may be different from what he is expected to teach. There are lots of things that I hope to cover in classes that I often don't get a chance to, and as an instructor you have to make trade offs between covering more breadth versus depth. This is normal. What I feel I am "required" to cover depends on the course, and if it is a standard course I usually rely on the official course description, though there is still a lot of leeway. However, there certainly are course where not covering certain content is unacceptable (e.g., not covering integration by parts in a standard calculus sequence). Also, at many places regularly running over time by 15 minutes without prior student agreement is not at all acceptable.

If you want something done about it, you should first talk to other students to see if they are of the same opinion as you. Then you can either try talking to the instructor or the department head, depending on what you feel comfortable with, and preferably with a couple other students. (As an instructor, I would generally prefer you bring a concern to me first before talking to the chair.) Particularly if talk to the instructor, you should try to make it a conversation, e.g., "if we don't cover XXX in this course, will this be an issue when I take Class Y?" rather than a list of complaints, although pointing out "some students have another class after this, so they can't stay after without being late for their next" is fine.

Note the department head usually gives faculty the benefit of the doubt, in part because faculty usually get a fair amount of autonomy over their courses. So if you do have a conversation with the department head, you want to focus on concrete, objective facts as much as possible. Afterwards, I would expect the department head to have a conversation with the instructor, which may make a difference if the instructor is told that something they are doing is unacceptable. This happened in at least one class I was in where no one knew what was going on, and then the course it became much more elementary.


I don't mean this in a mean way but ...Just suck it up! And don't even think about filing a complaint... We don't get to choose the style that our teachers use in the classroom. It may not fit you but it may fit others just fine. If you are expecting the professor's lectures to be the sole method of learning you are going to have a very hard time in life in general. Take what you can from the lectures; augment it with the text books; and do some research of your own on the topics. By the way, what subject is this class you are taking?


I would no longer take your concern up with the professor in question, but rather follow the chain of command and file a complaint. First, keep it informal and talk to the Chair. Ask anyone who has good standing in the class to add their input in the same way. If no progress has been made within a reasonable time frame (let the Chair decide this), then file a formal complaint with the Chair. If it gets worse, go up the chain to the Assistant Dean of your college branch (like College of the Arts). Keep at it until some progress is made. Whatever you do, keep it factual, not emotional.

Good luck.

  • 8
    Administrators will very likely say the professor is permitted to do this if he wants. There is no grounds for a complaint. Commented May 12, 2016 at 5:11
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    Consistently running 15 minutes over the scheduled class time is cause for complaint. Consistently getting lost in the details and "not covering the day's chapter" are not, because you can read the chapter yourself.
    – JeffE
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 11:59
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    Really? That's kind of a bummer, Anonymous Physicist. I answered the way I did because I know sometimes it's hard to take a complaint from a student seriously. But talking to someone who can at least open the conversation platform, even if the complaint isn't formally taken care of, imo is important. And yes, JeffE one can read out of the book, but from a student's standpoint, if I go to class, I'd better get something out of it.
    – User5634
    Commented May 13, 2016 at 0:24

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