Five Tips to Make Being an Adjunct Work for You
Back in the day, when I was a student, there were adjuncts at my local college. These people had full-time careers outside of the school, as most part-time instructors at the time did. To them, it was a way to make some extra money. They were not dependent upon the money that they earned; the pay supplemented their income.
Today, if you go into a classroom at a university, the instructor is more likely than not to be a part-time faculty member. Most part-time faculty now do this out of necessity while they are looking for tenure-track jobs. Others keep doing this year after year and get caught in a cycle. Their efforts are intermittently reinforced by contracts that sustain them for a few more months, then a few more, than oops, not this time… You get the idea.
Whether you are picking up classes while you are applying for permanent jobs, or you are doing it out of necessity, you should be working efficiently. This will give you yourself more time to continue a full-time job search, start your own business, or just enjoy your life. If you are otherwise financially secure, you obviously have much more liberty in what you choose to do with your time.
Here are some tips that will help you give the most to your students and department while getting the most out of adjuncting:
- Read your contract. Do nothing more than what is in that contract. – Most contracts state what classes you are teaching, the hours and dates of the classes, when you have to have grades submitted, email response time, and how often you have office hours and for how long. What is in the contract is all you have to do. Do no more. It will not help you. If you are on a TT job hunt, stay away from service. Work on what matters – publications, grants, and job applications. If you aren’t on the TT job hunt, the same advice applies. You should be working somewhere in addition to the university or aiming for that, whether it is for yourself or someone else.
Pro tip: Take a break from volunteering on projects that “will look good on your CV.” Focus on finding paid work that “will keep food on the table.” Also, being an adjunct is great if you are starting your own business. It will give you some security with income, more freedom with your time, and the uncertainty of the future will be a good motivator.
- If your institution has a union, know what they negotiated. – Unions have had some success in making headway for part-time faculty. Know what they bargained. You may have protections that give you seniority, a priority of choice, grants, promotions, benefits, etc. More often than not, It isn’t your department’s responsibility to let you know what these benefits are. They may not even be aware of what they are. They may know but work against the stipulations for other reasons in hopes that you don’t know that they are doing something that they shouldn’t.
Pro tip: Join the union. Read the union contract.
- Schedule your classes outside of regular business hours, or better yet, online. – If you have any control over this, you will want to keep your days open for your other opportunities outside of academe. If you work outside of regular business hours, you will have no excuse not to look for employment now or pounce on an opportunity when one comes up. If you don’t have control of this, you might want to consider picking up classes elsewhere if you can and want to teach.
Pro tip: Be kind to everyone in the department. Not only is this just the decent thing to do, but if you keep the communication open with the staff responsible for assigning classes (and when and how), they will be happy to give you these assignments and reach out to you when they are making schedules. They may also have friends in departments at other schools, and word about problematic people travels fast.
- Have boundaries. – You may have Dr. as your title, but nothing you are facing is likely a life or death situation. You are not on call. Being a “good” employee is not going to end with you being promoted to full-time status. If anything, there will probably be fewer and fewer full-time positions in the future. You are a part-time employee. You are not under an obligation to work any time outside of class that they or the students feel that you should. Return any phone calls at the same time each day. Read and respond to your emails once a day at about the same time. Make it clear to your students that your preferred contact method is by email. Do check your emails once a day, Mondays through Fridays, but not on the weekend. Don’t work on the weekend. Just. Don’t.
Pro tip: I give my cell phone number to students for them to text if there is something that is pressing that needs to be communicated immediately and an email just won’t do. They appreciate the accessibility, but they rarely text. I have over 100 students a semester and receive about five texts throughout that time – and usually during regular business hours.
- Block your time and create a routine. – Set aside a specific time to answer emails. Get in the habit of blocking some time to grade every day, even if there is nothing to grade. Every day, you will feel caught up with your classwork. Your students will be happy because you are doing your job promptly; not all faculty do so, and you will probably start hearing about it.
Pro tip: Have students submit assignments through your school’s online platform. This platform will make it easier to get into a routine of checking Blackboard (or similar) every day at the same time. I check mine after I answer emails. You can grade assignments as they are turned in, and you will not feel as inundated with work to grade. Your students will also appreciate the super-quick feedback. Grading will be as easy as checking email.