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September 2014

So you're teaching this semester...

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This will be a quick and practical blog entry. The point is to provide links to a few pieces of literature that can help PhD students organize their first teaching gig here in Université de Montréal's Département d'études anglaises (ÉTANG).

Having been in this position not too long ago, I know only too well how daunting this can feel. The mountain of information available out there in the cyber world is almost as disorienting as being on the other side of the desk on that first day of class. A few choice pieces of information can go a long way in supporting you through this situation. After all, teaching will most likely become an integral part of your life if you’re a doctoral student.

The Contract

To apply to teach one of the courses "soustraits à l'affichage" that you are interested in, you simply follow the instructions that Mélissa Grenier sends you in the email that advertises these courses. We get them at the beginning of each semester. If you are selected to teach, Ms. Marianne Gallo will ask you to come in to sign a "Contract d'engagement." You are then responsible for the course's preparation.

The Syllabus

First and foremost in this process is creating the course syllabus. Proper preparation of this teaching tool is paramount to getting off on the right foot. It will keep you organized and help the students know exactly what to do througout the semster, and avoid any undue miscommunication. Here are two links from the Université de Montréal’s PAFEU website (Parcours d’autoformation des enseignants universitaires) on preparing course syllabi.

PAFEU - Plan de cours
Designing a Great Syllabus

In my own experience, I have found that relying on a recent course syllabus prepared by a professor, especially one from the course you are going to teach, to be a great place to start. And once your own syllabus completed, getting it looked over by your supervisor is an additional way to make sure it passes muster regarding the inclusion of important elements.

Beyond your name, course number, class time, email and office hours, you will have to write a personalized brief course description and provide the students with the list of the required texts (see next paragraph for bookstore ordering). Another part of the syllabus has to do with required course assignments and the evaluation methods, along with their distribution (e.g. percentage worth of each element) This is also a great place to explain exactly what you expect as far as content and presentation is concerned (e.g. MLA style for essays). Policy regarding late assignments and plagiarism also fits well in this part of the syllabus. This is then followed by the semester's reading and teaching schedule, broken down by class. The material is portioned off into teachable sections that include a title, the required readings and deadlines for assignments.

The Bookstore

When you have been assigned a class to teach, an integral part of putting a course together revolves around the material you will use to teach. The books you choose are an important part of this. And once that choice is made, you will have to order from the university bookstore. They are the ones responsible for making sure the right number of books is available for your students. But, as no one is perfect, there is always a margin of error that you must account for in this process. By ordering your books early enough though, the bookstore has a better chance of fixing any issues that come up along the way.

The first class I taught was a grammar class. Since I did not have the responsibility of chosing the course manual, I simply ordered the manual used in the preceding semester the course had been given. I found out what book this was by looking at the previous course syllabus available online in the department. I contacted the bookstore, informed them that I was a grad student that was going to teach a course (use precise name and number of course here) in the upcoming semester and inquired about the book ordering procedure. Mélanie Primeau guided me through the entire process. You will find her contact information below.

Mélanie Primeau | Gérante
Librairie Université de Montréal
Pav. 3200 Jean-Brillant | 3200 Jean-Brillant, local B-1315
Montréal (Québec) H3T 1N8
téléphone:514-343-6111, poste 30167| Télécopieur:514-343-6350
courriel :


I have included here a teaching manual I was given at the beginning of a ProGradSkills course I took a few years ago. Obviously, seventy-four pages is insufficient to constitute a thorough and complete guide to teaching in college and university, but there are some useful pointers. Download _The_CDN_Teaching_Manual

It is important to remember that you are teaching a course, and that class time is the best time to give information to the students. If several student emails come in regarding a specific point that is turning out to be unclear, I have found it very useful to use Studium's "Dernières nouvelles" feature to send out generalized information to everyone in the class. As a matter of fact, Studium allows you to transmit a lot of information to your students. I use it to post the syllabus and any documents, or online links to documents, that should be read before a class. It is worth inversting time in learning how it functions, as it will save you a lot of effort in disseminating information to your students during the semester. My students are warned ahead of time that I favour this method of communication and that I will only contact them through their university email.