My Teaching Story: Celebrating 25 Years

September 4, 2018

Sarah Elaine Eaton - 2018-09-03a-small.jpgThis 2018-2019 academic year I celebrate my 25th year of teaching in higher education.

Here’s an overview of what that looks like:

  • Years as a sessional instructor: 22
  • Years as a full-time faculty member: 2 completed. Entering Year 3
  • Number of educational institutions: 2 institutions for credit courses; 4 institutions for non-credit courses
  • Number of additional organizations where I have given workshops or individual training sessions: I can’t remember or count
  • Levels taught: Undergraduate, graduate, continuing education, non-credit workshops, teacher training, employee training
  • Number of students taught: A few thousand, at least, but I haven’t kept track.
  • Current position: Assistant Professor (tenure-track)

Like many academics, my career has zig-zagged. My first teaching experience was as a Master’s level graduate teaching assistant. I was a brand-new graduate student. I was given a class list and a textbook and told, “Here. Go teach.”

Even though my official title was “Graduate Teaching Assistant” (“TA” for short), I was also what is called the “Instructor of Record”. That means that I was officially responsible for the entire course, including developing the course outline, all instruction, tests, examinations and grading.

I’ve heard that it is no longer permitted for TAs to be the “instructor of record” and that TAs actually need to have some support and mentoring now. Back when I started, graduate TAs were largely left on their own, to do the same work as professors, at a much lower pay rate.

I remember attending a day-and-a-half training session before my first teaching assignment. It was largely focused on learning styles, which has since become a highly contested concept. Things have changed for the better since then. TAs (at our institution at least), get training and mentoring along the way. They are supervised by the Instructor of Record, which means they get to learn how to teach in a less risky, more supported environment.

The following spring and summer, I was hired to teach the same course again, but because spring and summer courses were handled by a different administrative unit at the university at that time, my title changed to “sessional instructor”, which remains the typical term for this type of appointment in Canada. This classification goes by different names depending where you are. Some synonyms include:

  • part-time contingent faculty
  • part-time lecturer
  • contract faculty
  • adjunct lecturer
  • adjunct professor
  • adjunct faculty

For more than two decades I worked as sessional instructor, sometimes teaching up to ten credit courses per year, supplemented by teaching continuing education courses, workshops and employee training sessions. I taught at any institution or organization that would hire me. I also took on other work in an educational context such as program evaluation and even did clerical work in educational institutions.

This year, I will celebrate my 25th year of teaching. Because of the patchwork nature of my career, no one has kept track of this experience but me. And even I have lost track of the number of organizations where I’ve taught workshops or short-term courses. I began teaching at a time before computerized HR records were kept, and everything was done on paper. Even I don’t have every contract letter or pay stub from every teaching gig I’ve ever had.

In 2016, I was hired as a full-time Assistant Professor (tenure track), for which I am truly grateful. Not long after I started in my full-time role I had lunch with one of my former professors from my Master’s program, who is now a colleague. I recall her saying, “You did it! Most people give up, but you didn’t!” She’s right. I didn’t give up. I love teaching and I believe it as much a calling as it is a career. I am enjoying my career now more than ever.

My curriculum vitae cannot accurately show that for 22 years, I travelled from one institution or organization to the next, sometimes teaching for three different places in the same day and the number of hours in any given day that I worked often exceeded what is typically regarded as “full-time hours”. It was a patchwork of part-time jobs that allowed me to pay the bills.

Twenty-two years is a long, long time to spend without job security, benefits or a pension. People who have had their full-time teaching jobs for a long time can’t relate to that kind of life. I have had colleagues who have had full-time roles for a long time share their thinly-veiled assumption that if you’re good enough, you can get a full-time job. That may be true to a certain degree, but there are other factors that can come into play. If one is not able to move to a new location in order to take on a full-time role, for example, then options become more limited.

Other colleagues have declared that “Sessionals are not faculty!”, dismissing their opinions, views or contributions to the academy. The underlying point in such an argument is that only those with full-time faculty appointments have legitimate status. Those whose status is uncertain or part-time effectively have “less than” status, which is neither credible, nor legitimate. But I have seen this situation from both sides of the table now: both as a long-term sessional and now as a tenure-track assistant professor.

As I celebrate a quarter of a century of teaching experience this year, I can say one thing for sure: Teachers matter. Whether you are part-time, full-time, and regardless of whatever your title says you are. You are a teacher at heart. You keep your students at the heart of what you do, no matter where you are or who you teach.

For anyone else out there who is currently working as Sessional / Adjunct / Contingent Faculty, let me just say: You are not alone. You work hard. You have grit and tenacity.The work you do is important. You are good enough. Actually, you are more than good enough.

I challenge you to share your own story. What does this academic year mean to you? What do you have to celebrate? What message do you want to share with others? What’s your story? I would love to hear from you!

#academiclife #highered #lifeofanacademic


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This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the Werklund School of Education or the University of Calgary.


Participatory Methodology in Education

August 28, 2018

U of C logo - 2015I am excited to be teaching this doctoral level methodology course this fall.

Course Overview:

A survey of educational research methodologies broadly defined as ‘participatory’ – i.e., intended to support the involvement of as many interested and affected agents and agencies as possible and oriented toward meaningful, impactful, and sustainable action.

Course Description:

The aim of this course is to support your understanding of assumptions underpinning a range of theoretical traditions and their relationships to participatory research methodologies. You will examine and locate various theories according to their source and tradition, and will examine these theories against the backdrop of the intellectual traditions from which they originate. In examining each of these theories and their associated methodologies, you will begin to clarify your epistemological, ontological, and axiological stances in relation to participatory research methodologies. This is a reflexive process that will require you to begin to develop an understanding of your role as a researcher and your relationships to your research context and its participants.

This course supports your coming to make sense of the nuanced relationship between the researcher and his or her research context by way of working through the early intricacies of placing the self within the research inquiry. It helps you to understand and challenge the assumptions you bring to research through such questions as: What is the nature of reality? How does a worldview influence a perspective on the nature of knowledge? Where and how does knowledge come to be located and positioned? What knowledge counts as a legitimate way of knowing? What are the variant ways in which we come to know? How do we come to know and understand through different interpretive frameworks?  What are the ways in which knowledge is signified?  How might previous experiences and values influence choices of a research inquiry, a methodology, and associated methods? In looking across these research traditions and methodologies, the intent is for you to delve into their pragmatics and problematics, as well as to develop an understanding of the relationship between methodologies and methods.  To this end, we will examine closely the notion of commensurability in research designs. Throughout this course we will how we come to know what constitutes a research problem, how do we make sense/identify/mark/frame a particular lived experience as being researchable, what is the purpose of your research, what is the importance of the research and what are the ways in which a specific subject matter becomes the focus of inquiry. In particular, the course helps you get situated ethically and conceptually.

 Learning Objectives:

To consider the epistemological, ontological and axiological assumptions within the primary research paradigms and educational research methodologies.

  • To examine the conceptual influences behind participatory methodologies, and distinguish key movements and emphases in participatory methodologies.
  • To articulate an understanding of conceptual and theoretical underpinnings of educational research including the interwoven nature of research questions, research methodology and methods.
  • To partake in a reflexive inquiry concerning your values, perspectives, beliefs, experiences and understandings about research.

Approved Fall 2018 EDER 701.09 L01- Participatory Methodology in Education – Eaton


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This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the Werklund School of Education or the University of Calgary.

Using video posts to promote engagement in online graduate learning

July 16, 2018

The first time I engaged with a group via e-learning was in 2005. I have been teaching graduate courses online since 2011. We often follow a standard learning design of having students read material and then write an online discussion post summarizing and/or reflecting on their readings. They repeat this format in just about every course they take. Students have anecdotally reported that they find this process tiresome, static and not very productive in terms of learning.

As a course instructor, I also find it somewhat unproductive. Don’t get me wrong. I firmly believe that written tasks have their place. At the same time, I also believe that we can provide students with challenging and engaging ways of learning that go beyond the traditional text post on a discussion board.

With that in mind, I have been playing around with using video to make online learning more engaging for my students. Since the course I am teaching right now is as Master’s level course called Language Learning and Technology, we are learning about how to incorporate technology into learning meaningful ways. I figured that if continue to engage through traditional text-posts, we are not really learning how to incorporate technology in new ways! So, I  have challenged the students to do video posts about their course readings, instead of their usual weekly write ups. Students are creating and sharing videos of 3 minutes or less that classmates and I can read and respond to. Students post their videos within our learning management system (D2L) that is associated with the course.

To lead by example, I have also been posting weekly videos welcoming students to each week of the course. In this week’s video post, I offer my own reflections on a recent article that I read, showing them how they can do their own reflections on a reading in their video posts.

Reflections on what I have learned from an instructional perspective

I realized after I posted my video that I could have conducted a more in-depth reflection in my post. This was good learning for me, because I had a lot more thoughts swirling around in my head about the reading I did, but I didn’t express them all in the video. In a written post, I would have taken the time to write, edit, revise and then maybe edit and revise some more. In the video post, I shared my reflections, but didn’t fuss over whether it was perfect. I will be mindful of this when I engage in my assessment of students’ learning using this format.

You can see that I start off with the date, and mentioning the weather for today in Calgary, where I live. I wanted to show students that I was not recycling material and that what I was creating for them was new and fresh.

I think showing that the material is new not only enhances learning and promotes principles of academic integrity, it shows we are not being lazy as instructors. I think that traditional text posts can be problematic in terms of academic integrity because students may be tempted, from time to time, to have someone else write posts on their behalf. This is a form of contract cheating (where a third party completes work on behalf of a student). Curtis and Clare (2017) reported that about 3.5% of students admitted to contract cheating. Even though that percentage is small, it is still important for instructors to offer students ways of demonstrating learning in ways that go beyond traditional writing tasks. It is important for instructors to changes the circumstances that might make it easier or more tempting for students to have someone else complete work on their behalf.

I mention this only because I research and write about topics related to academic integrity, so it’s always on my mind. By and large, I think our students are committed to their learning and act with integrity as professionals and as learners.

My intention with these activities is to offer students an opportunity to engage in ways other than text that is authentic and interesting. The process of reflecting on readings is different when we engage verbally than in writing. We are still using text-based elements of the course such as replies to weekly posts, but so far, video seems to providing a fun-yet-rigorous way for students to showcase their learning.


Curtis, G. J., & Clare, J. (2017). How prevalent is contract cheating and to what extent are students repeat offenders? Journal of Academic Ethics, 15(2), 115-124. doi:10.1007/s10805-017-9278-x

Kumar Basak, S., Wotto, M., & Bélanger, P. (2018). E-learning, M-learning and D-learning: Conceptual definition and comparative analysis. E-Learning and Digital Media, 15(4), 191-216. doi:10.1177/204275301878518


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This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the Werklund School of Education or the University of Calgary.

How to Prepare a Teaching Dossier

April 10, 2018

The first time I was asked by my department head to prepare a teaching portfolio was back in the 1990s. At the time, I had no idea what one was or how to go about preparing it. We’ve come a long way since then and now there are some terrific resources out there to help teachers, graduate students and professors prepare a teaching dossier (also known as a portfolio).

Here are some things to think about when preparing your dossier:

Elements of a Teaching Dossier.jpg

If you work at a university with Teaching and Learning Centre, check out the resources they have available. Often, these centres will host workshops or provide individual assistance to members of the university community working on their dossiers.

It takes time to develop a teaching dossier. It’s part thinking, part writing and part figuring out how to present the information to a reader who may or may not be familiar with your professional experience. Give yourself plenty of time to develop your dossier. Ask a colleague or two to look over a draft and get some feedback.

Here are some resources that I think are tremendous and will help you understand what a dossier is and how to prepare one.

Printable online resources

Canadian Association of University Teachers. (2007). Teaching Dossier  Retrieved from

Centre for Leadership in Learning at McMaster University. (n.d.). Preparing a Teaching Dossier. Retrieved from

Dalhousie University. (n.d.). The Step-by-Step Creation of a Teaching Dossier.   Retrieved from

Korpan, C. (2015). Guide to Preparing Teaching Statements and Dossiers. Retrieved from

Memorial University of Newfoundland. (2016). Suggested Framework for a Teaching Dossier.   Retrieved from

University of Toronto CUPE 3902. (n.d.). Ten Tips for Preparing a Teaching Dossier.   Retrieved from


University of Toronto Teaching Assistants’ Training Program. Preparing the Teaching Dossier: Guidelines. Retrieved from

Vanderbilt University. (n.d.). Teaching Statements.   Retrieved from

Western University. Preparing Your Teaching Dossier.   Retrieved from

Check out this related post:

Why you shouldn’t post your teaching dossier online


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This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the Werklund School of Education or the University of Calgary.

The impact of tech on how instructors teach and how students learn

April 3, 2018

Use of tech cover.jpgI am thrilled to share a new book chapter that’s just been published. The chapter is, “The impact of technology on how instructors teach and how students learn”. It part of, The Use of Technology in Teaching and Learning, edited by Richard Harnish, K. Robert Bridges, David N. Sattler, Margaret L. Signorella and Michael Munson. It is published by the Society for the Teaching of Psychology. (I know, I know, I’m not a psychologist, but the topic fits with one of my areas of interest.)

In this chapter I talk about how technology is impacting educators in terms of their pedagogical knowledge and classroom practice, as well as how tech impacts how students learn.

One of the best things about this book is that is freely available online! You can download your own copy from:

In fact, the publishers have an entire collection of free books that anyone can download on topics ranging from academic advising to research on teaching, among others. Check them out here:

On a personal note, I have to say that I really appreciate contributing to works that are Open Access, so readers from anywhere can download, read and enjoy. There’s much to be said for this kind of publishing model and as a writer and a scholar, being able to share my work in this way is energizing.


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This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the Werklund School of Education or the University of Calgary.

Understanding and Exploring Signature Pedagogies for TESOL Teacher Education

March 20, 2018

Sig ped coverI’m excited to share a new resource that’s been almost a year in the making. I’ve been working with some amazing colleagues: Santoi Wagner (University of Pennsylvania), Jennifer Hirashiki (Westcliff University) and Julie Ciancio (Westcliff University) on “Understanding and Exploring Signature Pedagogies for TESOL Teacher Education”. This is a freely available, Open Educational Resource (OER) intended to help teacher trainers working in the field of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL).


Purpose: The purpose of this report is to elevate the collective understanding of what it means to be and become a TESOL professional and what differentiates “TESOLers” from other teachers. We have intentionally prepared this report as an Open Educational Resource (OER), so it can be freely shared with an international audience.

Methods: This report synthesizes literature relating to signature pedagogies, teacher training, and educational technology.

Results: We explore the surface, deep, and implicit structures of three signature pedagogies of TESOL teacher education: (a) developing the TESOL knowledge base; (b) cultivating reflective practice; (c) engaging in a TESOL practicum. We also situate TESOL within a technology, content, and pedagogical content (TPACK) framework as a means to further understand how and why TESOL teacher education can and should incorporate technology in a variety of ways.

Implications: TESOL is a relatively young discipline and has come of age during a time when technology has emerged as an essential element of teaching and learning. As such, TESOL teacher education programs must address technology as a key element of teacher preparation for the profession.

Additional materials: Contains 1 table, 1 figure and 81 references.

Keywords: signature pedagogies, English as a second language, TESOL, teacher training, teacher education, TPACK

Citation (APA): 

Eaton, S. E., Wagner, S., Hirashiki, J., & Ciancio, J. (2018). Understanding and Exploring Signature Pedagogies for TESOL Teacher Education. Calgary: University of Calgary.


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This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the Werklund School of Education or the University of Calgary.

Why you shouldn’t post your teaching dossier online

January 30, 2018

Students and colleagues sometimes ask me if they should post their teaching dossier or portfolio online. My answer is immediate: No!

Those who know me know that I am a big fan of developing a strong online professional presence. I encourage students and colleagues to keep their LinkedIn, Twitter, and other online professional profiles current. But there’s something about a teaching dossier that’s different. I couldn’t put my finger on it until I read an article by White & Conrod (2016) where they tell the story of how their teaching philosophies were plagiarized.

Your teaching philosophy is a key element of your dossier. Developing it is hard work. It involves some deep reflection, brain work and soul-searching. You dig deep into yourself to figure out who you are as an educator, what matters to you and why it matters. Honestly, articulating your teaching philosophy may be the single most difficult element of putting together your teaching dossier. When it’s done, it should be a reflection of who you are and what matters to you as an educator.

Other people may have similar philosophies, but in the end, your statement is about you and your values. It is yours and yours alone.

If you post it online, it becomes easy for others to cut-and-paste what you have shared. These may not be bad people. They may be too afraid or too intimidated to engage in the deep reflection required to develop a philosophy of their own. Who knows? My point is, don’t make it easy for others to steal your teaching philosophy.

Share your dossier selectively, with those who need it, such as employers or those evaluating your teaching. You might also choose to share your dossier with those who would benefit from it, such as students or junior colleagues. That does not mean you have to post it publicly online. You have other options:

Alternatives to posting your teaching dossier publicly online

  1. Share print copies of your work. This may sound old fashioned, but if someone does not require digital access to your dossier and a paper copy works just as well, why not? You might choose to add “Confidential” to the header or footer to make it clear you do not want it to be shared widely.
  2. Save a copy of your work in a digital format that is hard to copy. An protected .pdf isn’t foolproof, but it is an option. Another option is to save your work as a .jpg., but if you choose this route, be sure that the .jpg is high quality and easy to read.
  3. Save your work as a password protected or “read only” online document. Share the password or link with caution.

Again, share selectively and make it clear that your work is not for distribution.

I suspect that some people who are vehement believers in open access or the sharing culture may disagree with my stance on this issue. There are plenty of websites that offer tips about how to post your entire dossier online. Don’t get me wrong. I share lots of my work online, free of charge in an open access format. It may be OK to share parts of your teaching dossier publicly online, such as your previous teaching experience, but not all of it. The key is to think critically about what you want to share and how you choose to do that.

It is important to understand that the more publicly you share, the easier you make it for others to copy-and-paste your deep thoughts, rather than engaging in their own soul-searching journey. If you want to offer others a short-cut and do the hard work for them, that is an option. But if you’d rather not, think twice before posting your entire teaching dossier publicly online.

The point is for you to think critically about who you want to have access to your inner most values about teaching. In my view, your teaching philosophy is a key element of your identity as an educator. Don’t make it easy for others to steal your professional identity.


White, M. A., & Conrod, J. D. (2016). Is nothing sacred? Our personal teaching philosophies have been plagiarized. University Affairs. Retrieved from


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This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the Werklund School of Education or the University of Calgary.

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