As part of the support for my PhD, I teach a class every semester or so. I dual as a research assistant and have outside funding. I receive the same pay whether I teach or not. A few weeks ago, my department posted a list of teachers and their assigned classes. I was not on the list and received no indication that I would be. Naively I assumed that this meant that I was not going to be assigned to teach this semester and that I would just be a research assistant (which I already am funded for). I mean, you would think that they would notify teachers of their assignments, right?

However, I now have been notified today (December 19) at 2:30 p.m. local time that I am in fact assigned to teach a class starting in January. I have never taught this particular class, and (obviously) have no lesson plans or materials for the class. They have given me two weeks' notice. Since school is on holiday, I cannot go into the department and pick up a textbook for the class or anything. (Plus I live out of state from the school and I have gone home. I am not flying back until January 2).

Should I speak up and do something about this, or just grit my teeth and check it off as department ineptitude? For those of you who are in department administration, is this a common practice to notify an instructor two or so weeks before they have to step in front of a class and teach, especially when they have never taught the particular class and do not have access to the textbook during the ensuing two weeks?

For further reference, the department has done this to a few other students in the past. Usually what happens is that a professor decides last minute that they "cannot" teach a class. Several times the reason has been that the professor is tired of teaching said class or is just tired of teaching in general. The department chair is on board with this, since he knows he can just force a graduate student into the position and it keeps his friends happy. Since no students have ever pushed back on this practice, he keeps doing it. That is the reason why I wonder if I should formally address the issue of dumping teaching assignments onto the graduate students.

  • I understand their needing an unexpected "cover" for a class. The odd thing was how they passed it off as just my normal duties that I should have been planning on. No mention of being in a pinch. Who knows, maybe they are covering for yet another professor who can't do something for "personal reasons."
    – Vladhagen
    Dec 20, 2016 at 0:37
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    When you say "speak up and do something", what kind of outcome are you hoping to achieve? Dec 20, 2016 at 0:37
  • Unpleasant surprise. It can happen, esp. if suddenly a lecturer drops out (e.g. leaves the department or falls ill), but clearly it would have been good form to ask you first, before dropping you into a class with bare 2 weeks warning over Christmas holidays. Dec 20, 2016 at 0:38
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    That doesn't really answer my question. Is your desired outcome "not having to teach the class"? Is it "teach the class, but get some extra support and resources"? Is it "teach the class, but ensure that reforms are made so that this doesn't happen to more people in the future"? Or something else? Dec 20, 2016 at 1:10
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    In other words, are you asking about how to address your specific situation right now, or how to push for structural changes to address this as a general concern? Dec 20, 2016 at 1:14

1 Answer 1


Most likely something fell through at the last minute and they had to find coverage. It could have been handled better (i.e. asking rather than just telling, explaining the situation), but it does happen that a class might suddenly need to be reassigned much closer to the start of the semester than normal.

(Adjunct professors often get last-minute teaching assignments, and last-minute cancellations.)

You can certainly ask them if they can reimburse you for the cost of the textbook shipped to you at home. I've had my department reimburse me for expensive overnight shipping for stuff I needed for prep when they assigned a class to me at the last minute (a week or two before classes started, in a subject I barely knew. That was fun.) You can also ask if, given the late notice, they can help you out with materials and lesson plans from the last person who taught it.

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