Happy New Year and welcome back to what finally feels like a Canadian winter. This time of year generally accompanied by a sense of a fresh start, a new beginning, resolutions to keep. While it’s likely that most resolutions will be broken or forgotten about, there is much to be said about the using the momentum of a fresh start to try new things and devoting energy to things that you otherwise may put off.
We the Gradifying team will be exploring the diverse topic of teaching over the next couple of months. To start us off, I will introduce teaching dossiers and argue for why you should resolve (see what I did there?) to begin building yours ASAP if you plan to stay in academia or teach in some capacity.
What is a teaching dossier?
A teaching dossier is an evidence-based document intended to communicate an individual’s teaching experience as well as their teaching effectiveness. Unlike a resume or CV, which function more as a ‘display case’ for your work, an effective teaching dossier should present a purpose driven argument detailing who you are as a teacher, what you have done, and your future goals in teaching, all of which is supported by evidence from your teaching-related activities.
Teaching-related activities is a key word. The opportunity to teach an undergrad course may not be a reality for some (or most) grad students; however, work performed as a TA provides valuable experiences that will help build your teaching dossier.
When would you use a teaching dossier?
Those pursuing jobs in academia will undoubtedly be asked to provide a teaching dossier as part of their job application. For those not intending to stay in academia, there is certainly value in documenting your teaching activities, as items like teaching reviews and reference letters can add depth to your character profile when applying to non-academic jobs.
The Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL) has fantastic workshops and online resources to help you create a teaching dossier. The following information is taken from an online PDF detailing what to include your dossier.
Most teaching dossiers begin with a biographical sketch, that is, a brief summary of your experience and the type of course(s) that you are looking to teach. The remaining content is somewhat flexible.
(more info on each component HERE and examples of full teaching dossiers HERE)
The core (or essential) components consist of:
- A teaching philosophy statement
- Documentation of teaching activities
- Evidence of teaching effectiveness
- Appendices containing relevant example and evidence (course syllabi, reference letters, etc.)
Optional components within a teaching dossier consist of:
- Professional development
- Educational leadership
- Teaching scholarship
It is best to first create a master copy of your teaching dossier that contains all of the listed components. This copy acts as a reference tool from which you can select specific components to include for a job application.
The value of starting early
If you haven’t prepared a teaching dossier yet or this is your first time hearing about it, it’s worth your time to get started now. We all have experience throwing together our CV in time for grant/funding applications and trying desperately to recall which courses we TA’d over the past year and what our specific roles were in those courses. This type of cut and paste recall is fine for the ‘display case’ CV; however, given that a teaching dossier requires specific evidence to support your argument, this approach won’t fly.
A good teaching dossier will contain evidence in the form of USAT / TA reviews, reference letters from course instructors, positive email interactions with students, and (if possible) teaching evaluations from guest lectures that you have delivered. Most of these items cannot be summoned after the fact. For example, you cannot ask for TA evaluations from a tutorial that you led last semester. In order to collect evidence of your teaching activities and effectiveness, you must be proactive in arranging opportunities for evaluation and seeking opportunities for teaching.
Typically it is the responsibility of the TA to request evaluations from students or instructors. Make these arrangements early in the semester. It is also common for a grad student to guest lecture for a mentor in their field or for a course they TA. These experiences are extremely valuable, especially if opportunities for teaching are limited. If you perform a guest lecture, ask to have your lecture evaluated by the course instructor or contact the CTL and they will observe your lecture and provide meaningful feedback for improvement.
In addition to collecting evidence, beginning to develop a teaching dossier can be a tool for personal reflection, which may help guide future teaching opportunities and interactions with students. For example, given that positive interactions with students (i.e. email exchanges) can substantiate claims made in your teaching philosophy statement, chances are you will consciously align your future interactions with this position, in order to build further evidence for your teaching dossier.
Welcome to a new year and new semester! Get started on that teacher dossier, start lining up teaching opportunities, and stay tuned to Gradifying for more teaching-related posts.