Skip to Content

Teaching By the Seat of Your Pants

Only 10 pages ahead of your students? Welcome to the club!

By Therese Huston, Seattle University

Instructors placed in the unexpected position of teaching courses outside of their expertise can still do a great job.

College and university faculty—and I mean well-organized, hard-working instructors—often find themselves learning the material they’re supposed to teach as they teach it.

It’s a professor’s dirty little secret. Perhaps it will come as a surprise or perhaps you know from lived experience exactly what I’m talking about. College and university faculty often teach outside of their expertise.

They stand up in front of their students and teach something they learned last month or last week or, crazy though it sounds, that same morning on the bus ride to campus.

Do I mean that English professors are suddenly teaching physics labs? No. (At least for the most part “no.”) Most faculty still teach courses under the larger umbrella of their academic discipline, but many teachers are being asked to stretch and take on topics they haven’t been trained to teach.

The specialist in Norse mythology is teaching a course on banned books, reading (and being offended by) most of the books for the first time. And with increased interest in  interdisciplinary seminars, instructors are crossing departmental boundaries more often.

Some instructors will ask if it’s possible to teach something while you learn it. I believe the answer is yes. It’s challenging, but it can be done. And the good news is, it can be done well. In the following pages, I offer some suggestions I hope will help.

Meet Therese Huston

Therese Huston is the founding director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Seattle University. She had a great time writing her first book, Teaching What You Don’t Know, and is probably already writing the sequel. She facilitates writing retreats on the scholarship of teaching and learning, and she regularly consults with faculty to match their classroom strengths with best practices in the literature. She has co-chaired two national higher education conferences, and she serves on the board of directors of the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education. She can be reached at


Published in:

Published In


Thriving in Academe

  • anc_dyn_linksTeaching By the Seat of Your Pants
  • anc_dyn_linksTales from Real Life: Feeling A Bit Inferior
  • anc_dyn_linksTeaching Outside of Your Expertise
  • anc_dyn_linksBest Practices: Active Learning for Non-Experts
  • anc_dyn_linksIssues to Consider: The Dreaded Mistake
  • anc_dyn_linksReferences and Resources

More »

More Issues of the Advocate

  • anc_dyn_linksApril 2010
  • anc_dyn_linksDecember 2009
  • anc_dyn_linksOctober 2009
  • anc_dyn_linksJune 2009
  • anc_dyn_linksApril 2009
  • anc_dyn_linksSpecial Salary Issue 2009
  • anc_dyn_linksFebruary 2009
  • anc_dyn_linksDecember 2008
  • anc_dyn_linksOctober 2008
  • anc_dyn_linksJune 2008
  • anc_dyn_linksSpecial Salary Issue 2008
  • anc_dyn_linksApril 2008
  • anc_dyn_linksFebruary 2008