About this Guide

What is in this Guide and How to Use it

What is in this teaching guide? In this guide you can find three main elements:

  1. a narrative description of how to approach putting together a course, and then
  2. worksheets and
  3. resources to help complete this goal.

This guide is not an exhaustive anthology of everything that you need to know about teaching. Rather, it takes you on a holistic tour of how to plan and run a class from start to finish complemented by helpful teaching resources. These resources include best teaching practices, handy charts of essential information, linked resources for further reading, and videos. The first section guides you through the logistics of setting up a new course and offers resources and advice geared specifically toward graduate student teachers at the University of Toronto. The rest of the guide offers general best practices concerning syllabus, lesson, and assessment design; content delivery and classroom culture; effective feedback; and further resources for teaching that should be helpful at any post-secondary institution. To reflect the interconnectivity of course design, some concepts and resources are deliberately repeated in this guide.

How should you use this guide? This guide is designed for flexible use. You could read the whole document from start to finish for a fulsome sense of topics, questions, and considerations for course design and delivery. But maybe you have a question about one aspect of teaching, like feedback on teaching? No problem! We have a section about effective feedback that should cover all the basics. Ideally, you will use this guide in ways that help and support you in teaching and course design. Since teaching is an iterative process, we hope you will revisit the guide when new questions or challenges arise in your teaching. This guide will not answer every question you have about teaching but we hope it help you to become better at navigating teaching challenges, finding resources to support you in your teaching and encourage you to keep asking new and different questions about your teaching. Finally, we recommend that you revisit the guide from time to time; it will be regularly maintained with updated links and occasional additions to content. If you find there is anything askew or want to see something added, email us at services.ta@utoronto.ca. We welcome your feedback!

Thinking about Your Teaching

Student-centred course planning requires thoughtful reflection. Before starting to plan course outcomes or readings, it is a powerful and worthwhile exercise to take a moment to reflect on your teaching values and goals. For example, consider:

  • What do you want your classroom to be like for students?
  • What kind of teaching values and strategies will help you to cultivate that classroom environment?

Be mindful that teaching is a craft, not an innate state of being. If you want to improve, you will need to reflect on your values as well as past teaching experiences and then leverage those toward your new teaching contexts. This will include a bit of experimenting. A good place to start is to review feedback you have received from previous teaching; then consider what you value as a teacher alongside what others have seen in your teaching.

If all this sounds like a messy process, that’s because it can be! And that is what makes teaching equally as rewarding as it is challenging. But when things get difficult, there are many options for teaching support at the University of Toronto.

Teaching Resources & Supports

As a graduate student Course Instructor, you have access to a wide array of teaching resources and experienced teachers. It may be useful to think about teaching resources in terms of spheres: 1) personal, 2) departmental/divisional, and 3) institutional.

Sphere One: Personal: Talk to seasoned faculty members and experienced graduate student course instructors. They are an excellent source of teaching norms in your department and discipline. Ask questions such as:

  • What do you wish you knew before you started teaching your own courses?

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  • What was most challenging or surprising?
  • What are some department-specific teaching requirements?
  • Are there department pedagogy courses I can take?

Sphere Two: Departmental/Divisional: Your division or faculty may have a handbook for instructors. If there is a handbook, it will be invaluable to acculturate you to the expectations of policies, pedagogy, and protocol for contingencies. Some individual faculties and departments also offer in-house teaching supports, so be sure to chat to teaching mentors in your field to see what supports are available that are already tailored to your discipline.

Sphere Three: Institutional: University of Toronto has a few hubs for institution-wide teaching resources. The Teaching Assistants’ Training Program website offers programming and houses resources for graduate student teachers at every stage. As you make your transition to a course instructor, you may also want to visit the Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation (CTSI) website. CTSI is geared toward faculty development at the University of Toronto, so it gives you a good idea of what will be expected of you later if you find tenure-track or teaching-track work. If you are based on the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) campus you can also find support at the Robert Gillespie Academic Skills Centre or at the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC) at The Centre for Teaching and Learning.

Essential Lessons in this Guide

Overall we hope that you recognize five essential lessons from this guide.

  • Teaching is an iterative process. Your course will probably change a bit with each incarnation and you as an instructor will also change each time you teach it. This kind of change is valuable, but it requires thinking and rethinking, planning and revising, and making an action plan for future improvement. We hope this guide will be useful for your first or tenth course.
  • Setting learning goals is fundamental to every part of the process of teaching. Setting these goals early on will help to keep you aligned with what you think is most essential for your course.
  • Feedback is essential for improving teaching. Feedback comes from students, peers, mentors, faculty, and from your own reflection on your teaching practice.
  • It is important to maintain a student-centered teaching focus. Students are your main audience and their learning is the most important goal of the course. In all aspects of course design and implementation, we must be thinking about our students.
  • Document your teaching. This means adopting a way to reflect on and record your teaching practices, ideas and challenges. Along with saving emails and documents related to teaching work, you could keep a journal of teaching notes or record your teaching ideas on your phone.

There’s one more thing that we want to highlight at the outset. As we transition into new roles and realms of teaching responsibility, some of us naturally creep into that feeling of being an imposter. We at the TATP acknowledge that imposter syndrome exists and that this feeling is especially pronounced and common among graduate students. But we want to remind you that even though you may sometimes feel like an imposter, you have been explicitly chosen to be a sole course instructor. So, welcome to your new teaching role! You are ready and the TATP is here to help.

To hear more about imposter syndrome, check out the TATP video.