- Why I’m Quitting After Only Two Weeks of a New School Year - August 31, 2016
- The Grieving Year: A Major Professional Error - July 20, 2016
- Travel for the Teacher: Better than Professional Development - July 5, 2016
- Dewey in 2016: Still Relevant? - June 20, 2016
- Should You Adjunct Teach? A Checklist for Potential Part-time Professors - June 14, 2016
- Transition Time: Finding the Right School Fit Over Summer - June 3, 2016
- Graduations, Endorphins, and Persistence - May 31, 2016
Let’s not kid ourselves: The college classroom is a very different world than secondary teaching, as it should be. The material taught there is more rigorous, the students are more independent, and there is far less supervision of teaching practice, among other contrasts. The assumption at good colleges is this: If you’re proficient enough to get hired, you’re proficient enough to do the job we’ve asked of you. To some, this sounds like a dream job – perfect autonomy, the chance to teach engaging and higher-level material, and of course, the intellectually stimulating environment provided at quality college campuses. If you have an advanced degree and a healthy amount of desire, what’s not to like?
Before we sing the praises of adjunct life too loudly, we must consider some of the downsides, as well. If you’ve kept up with social media discussions about adjunct teaching or if you’ve read journal articles from the higher ed community, you know that adjuncts are presently fighting for better pay, better benefits, and better treatment by their employers. This fight is one worth having. The sub-standard pay at many state colleges here in Florida is a slap in the face of professionals. If you have a terminal degree that does not include the word “doctor,” don’t expect to be paid for it. Add to that the length of most college classes (16 weeks), time spent away from home and family mostly at night, the extra workload beyond your beans-and-jeans job, and the sometimes-open disrespect of adjuncts by full-time professors, and you have a formula for professional misery.
However, there are a number of things to enjoy and admire about adjunct teaching, if you find the right gig. I have taught college courses including Developmental Writing, Freshman Comp, Sophomore Lit, and a wide range of other English classes over the five years I’ve been doing this. I’ve also seen the right way and the wrong way colleges can treat their adjuncts. Here are some considerations when seeking the right part-time college teaching position:
1. Is the college merely 13th grade? Does this higher education venue you’re considering treat their classes like a repetition or shabby continuation of high school? Do they spoon-feed students easy material parading as college texts? Will they force you to use a prescribed curriculum that is second-rate? At colleges where administrations are mostly concerned with getting students “through,” the culture is one of sloppy neglect.
Students are not invested in their education because they don’t believe it has value. It’s just the same thing they did before, only this time with a fancier facility and slicker marketing. Somewhat ironically, the “leaders” at these types of institutions are far more micro-managing than those at legitimate, mission-minded colleges. They have to be because faculty members often don’t believe in the school’s validity, either. Avoid the 13th-grade college at all costs. They usually don’t pay well anyway, and they aren’t worth the frustration.Avoid the 13th-grade college at all costs. Click To Tweet
2. How much will they respect your voice? At the best college, I’ve ever encountered as an educator, I was allowed to design my own classes, select whatever texts I thought would be suitable, and provide feedback to my department chair about what was and wasn’t working. That feedback was then responded to in a timely and fair manner. Sometimes, the matters were small and logistical: There was a time when a classroom I used in the evenings was repeatedly locked. I told the chair, campus security was notified, and the situation was handled expediently. But little things like this can make all the difference – at colleges where there is little regard for adjunct professors, don’t expect to have materials and technology suited to your task.
3. Are you able to engage with a community? This criterion really has more to do with the “vibe” of a college campus than its tangible, concrete descriptors. When you walk around campus, does there seem to be excitement – about learning, about extra-curricular opportunities, or even about the cafeteria food? A college with vibrancy and a strong sense of community is one where students, even those who attend small classes in the evenings, will be more satisfied. Likewise, ...when a campus has a close-knit feeling about it, your full-time peers are more likely to treat you kindly rather than as an outsider. Click To Tweet. One of the nicest experiences I’ve ever had was working with a full-time professor who, upon hearing that I had no copier code, allowed me to use hers to run off assignments for my night class. Little gestures like these are common at colleges where the community is strong, and they are sorely lacking from the brick-and-mortar diploma mills mentioned above.
While these questions won’t necessarily assure that everything will be smooth sailing for you as an adjunct, they definitely help. Having done this long enough now, I’m able to pursue those part-time positions where I feel valued and well-compensated. If you’re just starting out, you may have to kiss a few frogs before you find your prince or princess college. But once you have, the added experience of teaching at the post-secondary level will fortify your practice elsewhere. For those considering this move, I wish you well – the college teaching experience is filled with its own unique set of challenges and rewards, and both can make you a better educator.