Advice to Adjuncts
I spent eight years teaching middle school followed by 15 years teaching high school, but the six years I spent as an adjunct after that were a form of teaching unlike any I’ve experienced. Here are a few tidbits of advice for those considering working as an adjunct college instructor:
Be flexible. Campus assignments sometimes are far from each other, causing you to have to drive to more than one location (sometimes in the same day). Have enough fuel in your car, and pack extra snacks in case you have just a few minutes between classes. Make sure that you are ready for the transition in advance by using technology to its utmost. Upload as much content into your course shell as possible; plans should be visible online and readily accessible before you leave the house for the day, so you won’t have to worry about setting anything up once you get to class. Especially if you get caught in traffic, you’ll want to be able to step into the room at the last minute and get started.
Be fiscally conservative. Adjuncts are paid by the contact hour, so if this job is your only means of support, make sure you plan accordingly. Large gaps in pay between semesters means you’ll need to plan for at least six weeks without income during those times. Do your best to consolidate your debt, lower your expenses, and deposit into your savings account for those lean times. You may need to supplement your income with another job, take on extra sections, or assume additional job assignments to make ends meet.
Find other ways to be fulfilled. Adjuncts don’t spend much time on campus outside of class because they don’t have an office or regular office hours. Therefore, the job responsibilities are usually relegated to teaching and grading, which can be draining. Find ways to contribute to your department, or other departments, to fulfil your need to contribute. This has an added advantage of raising the department’s awareness of you and your extra talents. If these things aren’t available, be active in your community.
Don’t be offended if you are not included. In other jobs, you may be used to attending functions or meetings sponsored by your department, and you may be wondering why you’re not included on the mailing lists to faculty events. Attending department meetings seems natural when all instructors are expected to teach to departmental expectations and outcomes, but technically, adjuncts are not considered part of the faculty even though they teach the same classes. Find a reliable faculty member, a mentor, or your department chair and get the inside scoop on the meeting information so you know exactly what you are expected to do. You will do well to keep up on policy changes to your department to avoid any surprises later.
Do the most you can. If the college offers an incentive program to increase your pay, do it, even if it takes a year and a lot of professional development. Some incentive programs can increase your pay up to 10 percent after a two-year investment. If your department chair asks you to take on extra responsibilities or wants you to become involved in a committee, do it. Not only will this involvement teach you a lot about the nuances of your job, but you’ll get to know your colleagues in ways you wouldn’t normally have the chance to. You never know what opportunities may come up from a random side conversation with a group member who happens to be your Dean.
Be prepared. You’ll likely not know what technology and supplies are in the room to which you have been assigned, so bring your own office supplies and be ready to improvise based on what you find. For instance, you may have created a lesson that takes individual computer use, but students don’t all have computers, or the room doesn’t have them. Be ready to run solely from the projector, or to adapt your lesson for group work. Bring your own whiteboard markers, because sometimes you’ll walk in to an empty tray, and it may not be easy to get to the office to get new ones. Military bases don’t allow access to content on your memory stick, so if you’re assigned to teach a class on base, that’s one more reason to upload content in advance. And here’s a tricky one: bring your own doorstop. It sounds weird, but an open door helps, especially at the beginning of class, and doorstops are usually pretty scarce.
Choosing to be an adjunct is not a decision you should take lightly. Most of your joy comes from the daily interaction with your students, who make the low pay worth your time. Even though adjuncts may not be viewed by the administration the same as full-time faculty, remember that you are valued by the students, who see no difference between you and your full-time colleague. And to those of us who truly value teaching as a career, it’s the students’ opinions that matter most anyway.