Graduate Student Teaching Resources: First Semester Success Kit

Teaching for the first time as a graduate student can be an overwhelming yet exciting experience. The following resources have been specifically curated to help you plan for, troubleshoot, and get the most out of your first semester as an instructor. Even if you have worked as an instructor before, you will likely benefit from these resources and suggestions.

Pre-Semester Preparation

Creating your syllabus

Creating your syllabus

Creating a new syllabus from scratch can be a long, difficult process. More than likely, your academic unit will provide you with a syllabus outline they would like you to follow, or they might even provide you with a complete syllabus that you can edit and to which you can add your personal details. If you have not received instructions outlining your academic unit’s expectations, consider reaching out to the head of your academic unit.

When creating or editing your syllabus, ensure it contains all the information and essential elements your students will need. Students appreciate knowing the parameters of the course and instructor’s expectations from the very beginning. Certain content is required to be included in your syllabus, including statements on academic integrity and accessibility, for example. CITL has prepared detailed Guidelines for Course Syllabi that can help you address these requirements as well as provide helpful recommendations for other sections.

Things to remember: as per university regulations, a syllabus must be provided to students before the end of the first week of lectures, so it is important that your syllabus is complete prior to the beginning of the semester; and as a graduate student and per-course instructor, you are required to submit your syllabus for approval to the head of your academic unit by the end of the second week of classes. Be sure to follow any deadlines set by your specific academic unit, as they may wish to approve your syllabus sooner.

Other resources:

Identifying university resources, dates, and policies

Identifying university resources, dates, and policies

Whether you are new to Memorial University or have already been a student here for a number of years, as a new instructor, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the resources available as well as important dates and policies.

Memorial University offers a range of student supports that may not be known to your students. Instructors on the St. John’s campus are encouraged to direct students to help centres, academic advising, and accessibility services. Grenfell campus has similar supports for students, as does the Marine Institute.

Both you and your students will need to be familiar with important dates and deadlines throughout the semester. These include deadlines for adding and dropping courses, final exam dates, and more. Your academic unit may also have specific deadlines for submitting your syllabus for approval or submitting final grades.

Taking on the duties of an instructor for the first time is a big responsibility. To learn more about the expectations of an instructor, consult the General Academic Regulations in the Undergraduate Calendar as well as the Duties and Responsibilities outlined in the LUMUN collective agreement.

Using Brightspace

Using Brightspace

All courses (both online and in-person) are assigned a Brightspace course site (shell) for instructors  to use in the delivery of their course. If you are new to using Brightspace, or if you are simply new to using it as an instructor, CITL has prepared a number of helpful resources to guide you in getting started in your course. The Brightspace Course Setup Kit, for example, is a customizable template you can tailor to meet your specific needs.

Consider using Brightspace features that can help streamline your semester:

If there are particular Brightspace features or tools you’d like to learn more about, consider attending a CITL workshop or booking a one-on-one consultation.

Other resources:

The First Few Classes

Setting the tone and creating community

Setting the tone and creating community

Students often get a sense of an instructor’s style and expectations from the first day of class, so you’ll need to think about how you want to portray yourself before stepping into the classroom. Do you want to maintain a formal instructor presence, or are you hoping to create a more collaborative, interactive learning environment?

Regardless of your personal tone, you will want to ensure your students feel a sense of community in your classroom: use class time to conduct an icebreaker and introductions; survey students about their needs or concerns; and encourage students to meet with you one-on-one or in small groups during office hours.

Managing your classroom

Managing your classroom

First and foremost, classroom management is about relationships. Proactive classroom management strategies focus on building trust and connection, making expectations clear, and effectively preventing classroom disruptions before they arise.

CITL has created a resource on classroom management [link to CITL resource in progress] that will help you set clear expectations in your course, establish connections with students, achieve mutual respect, and create opportunities for meaningful reflection about your teaching values and learning expectations.

Other resources:

Strategies to use Throughout the Semester

Providing feedback to students

Providing feedback to students

Evaluating and responding to student work can be one of the more demanding responsibilities of teaching. Effective feedback should be timely and relevant, and it should trigger students’ reflection, learning, and motivation. Throughout the semester, look for opportunities to incorporate multiple types of feedback, including formative and summative, informal and formal.

CITL has created helpful guides on providing feedback electronically and available feedback technologies that may help you provide feedback more efficiently, particularly in online learning environments, when receiving assignments electronically, or when working with large class sizes.

Flipping the classroom

Flipping the classroom

If you’re looking for alternatives to lecturing or worried about students’ level of engagement, consider flipping your classroom. Flipped classrooms are an approach in which students engage with lectures or other materials outside of class, and time traditionally spent on lecturing is replaced by learning activities.

Creating activities for flipped classrooms can require an upfront time investment, but this approach has many benefits, including keeping students focused while providing them time to process and reflect on their learning.

Other resources:

Troubleshooting Challenges

Addressing academic misconduct

Addressing academic misconduct

Academic misconduct is, fortunately, the exception rather than the norm, though you may still encounter it in some form. It is thus important to understand what constitutes academic misconduct and be aware of the procedures for addressing it.

If you have reason to believe that an academic misconduct has occurred, you should attempt to resolve minor offenses yourself with the student(s) involved. Consult the head of your academic unit if the alleged offence is not deemed to be minor or if a resolution proves impossible. Complete procedural steps can be found in the University Calendar, under section 6.12.3.

Other resources:

Solving technical issues

Solving technical issues

If you are in need of assistance regarding learning technologies (e.g. Brightspace, Online Rooms, Webex, etc.), CITL’s Support Centre is available seven days a week by phone, live chat, or online ticketing system.

The Technology Resources webpage also has guides, tutorials, and webinar recordings that cover many common learning technologies. If there are particular features you’d like to learn more about, consider attending a CITL workshop or booking a one-on-one consultation.

Other resources:

Developing your Teaching for the Future

Collecting feedback from students

Collecting feedback from students

Soliciting anonymous feedback from your students is one of the most effective ways to reflect on and improve your teaching. While end-of-semester evaluations are commonly used to gather students’ overall feedback on your class, soliciting ongoing feedback can also benefit you and your students during the current semester.

Consider using surveys in Brightspace to solicit feedback about your teaching. After reviewing students’ responses, decide what you can and will change and let the students know what you will be changing based on their suggestions. You may not be able to change certain aspects of your course such as methods of evaluation, which can only be altered under specific circumstances as outlined in the University Calendar, under section 6.7.4.

Fostering your teaching development

Fostering your teaching development

Memorial University is committed to providing opportunities for graduate students to continue their teaching development. There are a number of teaching-related professional development opportunities available through CITL including the Teaching Skills Enhancement Program and the instructor series.

If you have specific teaching questions or challenges, or are interested in exploring new teaching strategies or discussing ways to incorporate feedback you’ve received, consider scheduling a one-on-one consultation with an Educational Developer. You can also schedule a consultation to help develop or revise your teaching dossier, or arrange a teaching observation, a process in which instructors can work with an observer to reflect on and make improvements to their teaching.

One of your greatest resources for reflecting on and improving your teaching is your peers. Connect with the Graduate Student Teaching & Learning Community of Practice to discuss ideas, experiences, and challenges about teaching and learning.

Resource created by Melanie D.

(last updated on August 8, 2022)