APPENDIX A: Frequently Asked Questions for Graduate Students
Q. What counts as teaching experience?
A. Many things! In the approximate order in which they might usefully be emphasized in your dossier:
- Sole-responsibility Course Instructor for a course you designed
- Sole-responsibility Course Instructor for an already-established course
- Guest Lecturer in a course (temporarily re- placing an instructor for one or more classes)
- Senior TA responsible for coordinating other TAs
- TA for a tutorial section or lab
- Project or research supervisor (for graduate or undergraduate students)
- Mentor of fellow teaching assistants
- Tutor (of university undergraduate students)
- Non-postsecondary teaching experience
- Teaching at the secondary school level or for continuing education programs
- Tutoring secondary school students
- Public lectures
- Teaching or training for private sector, industry, or government agencies
Q. What if I don’t have any (or very much) teaching experience?
A. Minimal teaching experience can make it more difficult to describe your approach to teaching or the teaching strategies that you believe to be effective. However, although you might not have substantial teaching experience, you do have substantial experience as a student, and you can draw on this to develop your teaching dossier. For example, reflect on your experience first as an undergraduate learner, then as a graduate student. What did you like best about your learning environment? What conditions were necessary in order for you to do your best work? Did you encounter models of good teaching in your past experience as a university student? Explain their teaching styles. Relate how they taught to how you learned in their classes. Contrast your experience as an undergraduate with your experience as a graduate student. What is different? What works better for you as a graduate learner? What doesn’t work as well? Who inspired you to pursue graduate studies? Why?
You can also seek out ways to collect some teaching experience without a full TA or course instructor position. For example, you can:
- Ask the instructors of undergraduate or graduate courses aligned with your area of specialization whether you can conduct a guest lecture during the semester.
- Seek out opportunities to mentor graduate or undergraduate students.
- Seek out opportunities to tutor secondary or undergraduate students.
- Volunteer to teach writing or math skills.
- Identify any other occasions in the past when you have participated in activities related to leadership and teaching others:
- Training of fellow staff members at a non-university job
- Peer counsellor
- Instrument lessons (piano lessons, etc.)
- Coaching (swimming lessons, teams, etc.)
- Camp counsellor
Furthermore, even without formal teaching experience, you can begin developing teaching materials. For example, you could:
- Design a sample quiz or activity or experiment that you would like to use when you start teaching
- Design a sample course outline
- Compile a sample reading list
Q. What do I do if I don’t have any student evaluations?
A. If you do not have any formal course evaluations, you can request feedback from students, peers, and faculty that will provide a similar portrait of the effectiveness of the teaching strategies you employ in the classroom. For example, you can:
- Develop and summarize the results of a mid-course evaluation. (See Section 11: Creating Materials for Your Dossier). Please only do so with the express permission under the guidance of your course coordinator or course instructor.
- Collect unsolicited and solicited student feedback. (See below: Solicited Letters From Students).
- Request an in-class observation from a faculty member, peer, or CTSI or Teaching Assistants’ Training Program (TATP) staff member. You will receive written feedback if your observation is conducted by a member of CTSI or the TATP; if your evaluation is conducted by a peer or faculty member, ask whether they would be willing to write you a short letter describing your teaching strengths and highlighting potential areas for improvement.
- Complete a microteaching session through the TATP certificate program or organize one in your department. You will receive written feedback on your teaching from at least five other graduate students that can be included in your dossier.
SOLICITED LETTERS FROM STUDENTS – For a job application dossier
For graduate students and sessional instructors without access to summative evaluations of their teaching (e.g. from student course evaluations), or for those who wish to balance those summative evaluations with a narrative description of the impact of their teaching, letters from your students affirming your teaching effectiveness and providing a student’s perspective on the teaching approaches you outline in your dossier can provide a detailed and compelling portrait of you as an instructor. Such letters can also be useful for your own professional development, allowing you to gather additional feedback from your students on particular topics relating to your course, its delivery and your teaching.
Q. Which students should I ask for a letter?
- Students who have provided you with unsolicited thanks and praise.
- Students who improved significantly while you were their instructor.
- Strong students and students who are good communicators.
Q: What information should I provide to students?
A. Because students generally do not have very much experience writing such letters, they may need some information from you in order to be able to provide an effective letter.
- Inform students about how the letter will be used. Explain the purpose of the dossier, who will be reading it, and what they will be looking to see in your dossier: a portrait of you as an instructor and evidence of your teaching effectiveness.
- Students should note the course and the role (e.g. course coordinator) in which they’ve interacted with you. Remind the student of this information – they may not recall or be aware of your exact title.
- Let students know that specific, concrete examples are very beneficial to developing an accurate portrait. Suggest that students identify two or three examples representing elements of your teaching that were exceptional or unique.
How to use the letter in your dossier?
- Clearly label the letter as solicited.
- Include the letter with any unsolicited letters and other teaching evaluation data.
- You may wish to provide additional information about your relationship with the student. For example, if the student’s grades improved dramatically over the course of the semester, you may wish to describe the role you played in this process. You can also include supporting materials for any items the student describes in the letter (e.g. handouts, an assessment rubric or, with their permission, an example of their graded work).