Sessional Instructor

What is a Sessional Instructor?

Sessional Instructors (SIs) perform the same teaching role as faculty members (Professors and Lecturers) but with lower pay, no tenure, minimal benefits, and a lack of many other substantial rights. Sessional Instructors and other contingent faculty, such as Limited Term Lecturers (LTLs), teach around 40% of the courses. Their work normally includes some or all of the preparation of the course, the major responsibility for the presentation of course material, consultation with students and the assignment of grades.

Access to work

After a long strike in 2015, the previously completely precarious work life of Sessional Instructors was greatly improved by winning seniority rights. Sessional Instructors now accrue seniority for each semester they teach at SFU (including semesters when they are on maternity or parental leave or teaching as a Limited Term Lecturer), commencing with their first Sessional Instructor appointment. A public seniority list is distributed to all Sessional Instructors by email each semester and it is important that each Instructor verify that their individual record is correct.

Sessional instructors have the right to apply for any position in any department. The department must determine which applicants are qualified and hire the qualified applicant with the highest seniority. Every Sessional Instructor applicant who is not hired has a right to request the reasons in writing why they were unsuccessful and can get in touch with us if they have any concerns. 

Seniority is lost when a Sessional Instructor does not receive a teaching appointment within twenty-four months of the end date of their most recent appointment, so it is important that those instructors who teach less often keep track to ensure their seniority is not lost.

Sessional Reserve

In some departments, Sessional Instructor work is also a part of teaching related experience for graduate students or postdoctoral fellows. These departments may invoke a right to hold up to 25% of the Sessional Instructor positions in their teaching plan in reserve for graduate students or postdocs. These reserve positions must be noted on the posting and can be awarded outside of the seniority system. The purpose of these reserve positions is to allow some departments to provide one or two teaching opportunities to graduate students or postdoctoral fellows to help further their careers. It is not a source of graduate funding or support.

Temporary Promotion

If a Sessional Instructor teaches a threshold of 16 courses in a four-year period, the employer must offer them a Limited Term Lecturer appointment of at least one year. These appointments make the Instructor a member of the Faculty Association (SFUFA), with a higher pay rate and different (but still limited) benefits package. This critical right was also won through striking! Several long-term instructors have been able to use these Limited Term Appointments to bridge into longer positions either at SFU or elsewhere.

Where to find Sessional work

All sessional instructor jobs must be posted on the central website and the normal posting practices must be listed on each department website. Except when the commencement date of the position makes it not possible or the Union has agreed to a shorter time frame, all positions must be posted for two weeks. The application process for positions must be reasonable and the qualification must be necessary to conduct the work. If you have concerns about a posting, get in touch with us right away.

Duties and Responsibilities

As a Sessional Instructor, you may be responsible for:

  • Preparing and presenting course material
  • Supervision of TAs/TMs, including: completing a Time Use Guideline (TUG) with them, reviewing their workload, providing a fair evaluation
  • Assigning final grades and dealing with appeals/deferrals

As a Sessional Instructor, you are not responsible for:

  • the enrolment of students
  • finding replacement for when you are sick

As a Sessional Instructor, you have the right to:

  • Present course content in a manner you deem appropriate (within department limitations)
  • Maintain all intellectual property rights for course materials you create
  • Medical benefits and various leaves (see the dedicated section for details)

Additional Work

In some cases, the department may determine that different/additional preparation, instructional techniques, software, texts, etc are necessary for the job. In this case the Department will then meet with the instructor to determine the appropriate level of additional compensation. If you fall into that

In some cases, work may continue beyond the end of the semester. When it continues beyond the first week of the next semester, such as in the case of a grade appeal or deferral, then the Sessional Instructor must be compensated at an hourly rate equivalent to the PhD TA (GTA2) rate of salary plus scholarship for all work performed.

What benefits do Sessional Instructors have?

Sessional Instructors have a benefits package which includes

  • Tuition deferment, so you can pay your tuition off your paycheque even $1 at at time without incurring late fees, as long as you pay the entire bill by the end of your appointment;
  • BC Medical Services Plan (MSP) / International Student Health Fee (ISHF), 100% paid by employer ($75/month per person on study permit, otherwise free).
  • Pacific Blue Cross Extended Health Plan 75% paid by employer, 25% by employee (total plan cost: $24.17/month for single; $67.74 for two or more)
  • Individual Dental reimbursement value: $11.35/month for single; $22.70/month for a couple; $34.50/month for family 
  • out-of-province or international students can have part of the MSP replacement premiums (e.g. or similar plan) reimbursed during that period

These benefits are not automatic. You must enroll. For more info:

What leaves do Sessional Instructors have access to?

Sessional Instructors receive the same leaves package as Teaching Assistants. You are entitled to the following leaves per appointment, except as noted:

  • One week of short-term leave through exchange of duties (with approval of supervisor)
  • Five days of paid compassionate leave
  • Five days of unpaid family care leave
  • One month paid sick leave
  • Paid leave for court appearance
  • Up to a year of maternity/parental leave (unpaid)

It is absolutely critical that any Sessional Instructor taking maternity or parental leave register it with the department by sending an email. This registration will allow claiming of seniority accrual for those semesters — an important right that ensures that those with different family statuses do not fall behind with respect to seniority.