Teaching a Course on Short Notice

Teaching a course on short notice can be exciting yet overwhelming. As with teaching any course, careful planning is essential for a successful teaching and learning experience, especially when given little time to prepare.

This guide addresses two situations: being asked to teach a course that begins very soon, and being asked to take over a course that someone else was teaching, sometime after the semester has begun.

Teaching a Course that Has Yet to Begin

If the course has not yet begun, take time to organize the course and plan content delivery well.

Ask your department chair/school director about expectations for the course

Identify course goals, student learning outcomes, and specific course assessments. Review a copy of the course syllabus, the Blackboard course (if one exists), and any examples of assessments to gain more insight on the how the course has been developed.

Familiarize yourself with the upcoming academic calendar

Review and refer to the academic calendar when structuring the course schedule and syllabus. Identify the days and times the course meets and keep in mind religious holidays and campus breaks and events as you plan course meetings and office hours.

Familiarize yourself with university and department/school final exam requirements. Your chair or director can assist you in these matters. Refer to the NIU academic calendar for specific dates.

Identify campus support services that can help you prepare for teaching.

The Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning (CITL) offers a variety of programs, resources, and services to support Northern Illinois University's mission on teaching. The following will help you prepare for this new teaching experience.

Explore additional university resources

Learn about the following resources by clicking on their titles:

Be yourself

Teach as you would teach any course – with as much excitement as if it were your favorite course and by being prepared and engaging.

Teaching a course that has already begun

Teaching a course that has already begun has its own set of challenges. You do not need to design the course, but you do need to be able to maintain stability for the students and get to know the existing structure, policies, and expectations.

Analyze what you will need to do to teach the remaining weeks of the semester

Start by reviewing the existing course syllabus, how the course is structured, and assignments that have already been submitted. Identify remaining requirements and assignments and whether any student work has been submitted but not yet graded. Familiarize yourself with the course grading scheme and be consistent with it as you assess and evaluate remaining work that is required. If possible, maintain the same office hours to help students adjust to the new change.

Introduce yourself to the students

It may help to have the department/school chair/director or another colleague be with you at the first meeting to help with the transition, especially if the original instructor was popular with the students. During the first meeting with the class, share with your students your teaching philosophy, something about yourself, and that you are interested in their success. Huston (2011) suggests that you “talk with the students [to] establish a new but not incompatible relationship. You are not attempting to ‘usurp’ the previous instructor but to act on their behalf and teach the course as best you can.” Also, allow the students to introduce themselves and share with you any details about the course that might help you adjust to the class—perhaps they can provide optional feedback about the changeover using Blackboard’s journal feature, which allows personal conversations between you and individual students. Consider the “new instructor transition” from the perspective of the students and make efforts to accommodate reasonable requests.

Identify a number of key learning goals and focus on them

When teaching a course at the last minute or one that is out of your area of expertise, Huston (2011) suggests that one of “the most important [steps] is to find out what students must know.” It may not be possible to teach everything as originally planned, but having an organized plan to finish out the semester will be beneficial to both students and yourself. Focus on key learning goals to help you manage the remaining course content and help students succeed.

Explain any changes you have made to the course

You will most likely make some changes that are unique to your own teaching style but do so with discretion – too many changes could throw off students’ stride and create a classroom environment that might be difficult to handle. Huston (2011) suggests that you “become acquainted with the course content and decide how best to complete what remains,” and that you be “flexible and pick up where the other faculty member left off!” Doing so may reduce students’ anxiety and help you know where to start.

However, whatever changes you make to the already-established plan, be explicit in explaining them to your students and post those changes to Blackboard. Review exactly what assessments, policies, and course structure you plan to change and those you plan to keep. Students need to plan for any changes that may occur with this course.


When asked to teach a course on short notice, ask colleagues who can help you transition into this just-in-time teaching opportunity and get to know key department/school support staff who can help guide your way through policies and procedures. All of these individuals can support your efforts as you teach on short notice. Teach the course as you would any other – with as much excitement as if it were your favorite course and by being prepared and engaging. The experience may be challenging but worth the effort and one that you will be proud of accomplishing.

Contact Us

Center for Innovative
Teaching and Learning

Phone: 815-753-0595
Email: citl@niu.edu

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