steve gaulin

Course Planning Overview

Common Teaching and Planning Issues

Sometimes planning and delivering a course can be overwhelming, so we’ve included a few sections below to help you start planning, deal with teaching anxiety, manage your time, and work well with your teaching team (instructor + teaching assistants).

The Teaching TeamDeal with Teaching Anxiety Time Management for Instructors and TAs

Organize your Class into a Predictable Weekly Pattern

Weekly Patterns for Organizing Your Course

To help you organize the course workload and students’ study schedule, create a predictable weekly pattern for you to follow - whether your course is online, blended, hybrid, or in-person. Predictable weekly patterns don’t actually have to be weekly. They can be organized by any logical unit of time, theme, or content area that makes sense for your course. The key is really the predictability of the workload so that students know what to expect. The more transparent the course is to students, the easier it becomes to engage them in meaningful interactions, both in and out of class time. Make your weekly pattern while completing your syllabus, so you can align the workload with course learning outcomes and major assessments.

Examples of Weekly Patterns

In-person courses     Online Summer courses     In-person Summer courses

The Teaching Team

"You are a teaching team, and should be on the same page about course policies, structure, and objectives." - Elizabeth Schmidt, TA Pedagogical Advisor

The relationship between a Teaching Assistant (TA) and an instructor is, by definition, one between an employee and a supervisor. However, because of the nature of academia, the Instructor-TA relationship may have additional levels that define it.  Acknowledge the possible challenges that arise (as much as possible) from the layering of these various relationships, and establish clear lines of communication, expectations, and boundaries at the very beginning of the quarter.





Communication is the Key to Success 

The instructor should establish a clear chain of command that determines which aspects of the course will be collaborative within the team, and which will be set by the instructor alone.

  • Per TA Union contract, this should not be scheduled during designated holidays or university breaks
  • Locate/Distribute Course Materials, such as a hard copy of the textbook or eBook, Printed Course Readers or posted reading material on Gauchospace, Workbooks or weekly loose handouts, media, etc.
  • Review Syllabus 
  • Corroborate Schedule (inform each other of any prior commitments that may impact your teaching, such as conference and/or research travel, comprehensive exams, etc.)
  • Tips for Instructors on How to Manage TAs
  • Tips for TAs for understanding the TA Role and Faculty Expectations
  • Go over lecture and section/lab topics
  • Upcoming assessments and major assignments
  • Grading workshop: grade sample responses together to identify potential challenges and create a common set of expectations.
  • Pedagogical training on teaching in your discipline: This is part of professionalization; training your students to go on the job market.
  • Any issues that arise, such as lack of student participation or engagement, disruptive behavior, suspected plagiarism, etc. (TAs should not be solely responsible for punitive actions.)
  • Go over the Evaluation process
  • Provide feedback to TAs on their progress in becoming good teachers
  • Identify when Final Grades are due, and how much time the instructor will need to review them before they are submitted

Overcoming Obstacles to Communication

If you are working with your advisor/advisee…

 ...remember that you both want a successful class. Address workload issues with a professional demeanor and reasonable solution paths.

If you feel like you aren’t being listened to…

...Identify when and where any miscommunications occurred (e.g. meeting, email). Set up a face-to-face meeting to discuss the communication breakdown.

If students are frustrated with their Instructor and/or TA …

 …be an advocate for your students, but do not publicly undermine each other. Consciously use language that supports the course policies, assessments, and content. 

If you still need help…

… meet with your departmental representative, or or talk to the Office of the Ombuds or the TA Union.

Deal with Teaching Anxiety

Teaching anxiety is natural and normal, especially if it’s your first time teaching a particular course, or your first time teaching, period. It’s important to distinguish between medically-diagnosed anxiety disorders and situational anxiety. If you're struggling with anxiety that isn’t teaching-specific and that interferes with your daily life, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) is a great resource for graduate students. Staff and faculty can get temporary therapy at the Academic and Staff Assistance Program (ASAP).


One way to look at teaching anxiety is as a two-step response:

  1. Overestimating what could go wrong

  2. Underestimating your ability to cope


You’re not alone! We encourage you to talk to us at Instructional Development and attend some of our programs or workshops. But also talk with your peers, colleagues, cohort, other experienced instructors, and mentors for advice. Below are strategies for managing common forms of teaching-specific anxiety: fear of the unknown, stage fright, impostor syndrome, and workload worries.

Teaching Anxiety PDF


Forms of teaching anxiety

Strategies to reduce teaching anxiety

Fear of the unknown

Concentrate on the things you can control, like organizing class space and lesson planning.


  • Visit the teaching space before class to figure out where to sit, stand and put your belongings. 

  • Get trained on the class technology.

  • What teaching materials will you need to bring? (e.g. slides, markers, keys)

  • Plan your lesson. Include questions that you want to ask or instructions for small group work.

Stage fright

Think of students as your collaborators instead of as an audience. When you need to speak to the whole group, practice in advance.

  • Use active learning strategies that ensure students work together, and so that you don’t have to speak to the whole group for an extended time. 

  • Make speaking notes. Include reminders to pause, walk, make eye contact, breathe deeply, smile, and gesture.

Impostor syndrome

Confidence takes practice, mistakes, and humility.

  • Remember: teaching is not about knowing the material perfectly, it's about creating opportunities for students to learn together.

  • Don’t hide that you’re still learning. If you’re not sure about something, tell students that you’ll find out.

  • Recognize teaching techniques that you do well, and work on developing one new teaching skill at a time.

Workload worries 

Teaching is a messy human undertaking that will take up as much time as you give it. Learn to set limits.

Track your time

  • Limit your teaching tasks to fit into your schedule, and stick to that schedule as best you can. 

  • Prioritize your work and let go of perfection. 

  • Get better at managing your time (see below).




Time Management for Instructors and TAs


Getting a handle on time management is something that is universally difficult. Often, we underestimate the time we need to accomplish a task (Buehler, Griffin, & Ross, 1994), don’t think about future consequences and prioritize things in the short-term (König & Kleinmann, 2007), or feel disconnected from abstract activities and focus on more immediate and concrete tasks (McCrea, Liberman, Trope, & Sherman, 2008). 

Image via PNGITEM

Time management

Reflect on how you use your time

Remember that your attention and focus changes all the time, as do the contexts in which you work (e.g. office, home, library, classroom). Take time to understand why you are being inefficient. As you read the questions below, be honest about your feelings, inner thoughts and reactions to these classic characteristics of stress and procrastination.


Do you avoid or trivialize your work by...

  • Avoiding the location or situation in which to accomplish your work?

  • Overplanning?

  • Getting easily distracted by other (minor) tasks?

  • Trivializing certain tasks?

  • Thinking about things you are missing out on?

  • Saying you perform better at the last minute?


Do you get caught up in negative and stressful thought processes that prevent you from working, like…

  • Expressing that any effort to accomplish a goal is humorous?

  • Blaming external forces for which you have no control?

  • Feeling unconfident or that what you are doing is self-defeating?

  • Comparing your situation with a worse one? 

  • Imagining difficult hypothetical situations?

  • Feeling shame about not accomplishing everything you “should have” done?

Strategies and Routines for Effective Time Management

Each day is different, and there is no shame in trying different tactics for different contexts; you are trying to get work done not be your own worst enemy! Some of these strategies will get you jump-started, while others help you establish healthy working routines and mindsets. 

  • Identify your distractions and remove them (or remove yourself) from the area. 
  • Identify your habitual procrastination behaviors and work on changing them one at a time.
  • Prioritize your list of tasks. Focus on things you can tangibly do in the present to successfully accomplish your larger goals.
  • Try using a 5-Minute Hack. Sometimes just starting a task is the hardest part, but once you begin, you’re able to continue.
  • Let go of feelings of perfectionism. Just get something (anything) done!
  • Write down distracting thoughts as they come, but keep working! They are not urgent. Stay focused. 
  • Manage your space, time, clothing, food, water, needed materials, and outlets so you can work comfortably and without distraction. 
  • Establish a daily routine to care for your physical and emotional needs: water, food, rest, exercise, service, friends, and family.
  • Co-work with a buddy for productivity and accountability. Set up a regular schedule and location where you meet and agree to just work on your individual tasks. 
  • You typically want to use one scheduler (for example, writing everything on a physical planner, or using an online calendar, not both). You might also find success in scheduling breaks and fun activities.
  • Stretching and movement are necessary if you are sitting for long periods of time. Experts recommend doing some movement at least every hour.
  • Use the Pomodoro Technique from Francesco Cirillo to set a timer that determines your work and break times.
  • Break up large projects into prioritized smaller goals and manageable tasks. Then schedule these out on your calendar.
  • Collective Pomodoro's work great! Make sure you all agree on the times you are working and taking breaks, as it will help to keep everyone accountable. 
  • Try getting an app that tracks your time on devices, and when it’s time for a break. 

Belittling yourself or others is an unhealthy way to manage anxiety or deal with feelings of rejection, disappointment, or failure. It may also result from a lack of confidence in yourself or in your work circumstances. 

Ask yourself about the things you can control (or try talking through these with a trusted friend or colleague): Why are you deflecting with humor? What are you really worried about? What would happen if you took this goal seriously? How are your values, desires, and goals aligned with your tasks? What other parts of your life may need to be adjusted to put you into a more positive frame of mind (e.g. sleep, food, exercise, serving others, time with loved ones)? Then make an achievable plan, share it with a trusted friend, and take steps toward resolving these things. 

  • Evaluate your workload, worries, and desires.
  • Recognize that you cannot do absolutely everything, and that what you choose to spend your time on should align with future goals. 
  • Remind yourself of what you have accomplished thus far in the face of outside forces.
  • Remind yourself of successes you have had, perhaps something tangible to look at or hold. 
  • Ask someone important to you to express their confidence in you if you cannot manage that in the moment.
  • Communicate openly with your colleagues and supervisor - ask for help or direction in establishing and achieving reasonable expectations.
  • Need a quick stress reducer? Relax with controlled breathing. Put your hand on your stomach and focus on breathing into your hand to create deep breaths with your diaphragm. Count your breaths in, hold, breathe out, hold. 4-4-4 (in, hold, out), or 4-7-8 (in, hold, out). Repeat.
  • Jumpstart your brain with bellows breathing exercises. Take a few deep breaths in and out of your nose, expanding your belly fully as you breathe. Then exhale forcefully out your nose, take another deep inhalation, then a forceful exhalation. Repeat a few times.
  • Too many ideas and possibilities whirling around in your mind? Stand up and stretch for 2-3 minutes, holding each pose for 10-20 seconds with slow, controlled breathing.

These might make focusing on certain tasks easier and create routines. Try using only one, or use a few. Find what works for you!

  • Go offline - Use Airplane Mode or Do not Disturb on your devices
  • Find Activity Timer or Task Timer for browsers, like Pomodoro timers with customizations. Often free.
  • Look for apps that integrate your calendar with task management. 
  • Find ways or apps that will prevent you from opening particular apps while you are working. 


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