Adjunct teaching at community colleges

This post continues our series Confessions of a Full-Time Adjunct.

If you read my last post, Adjuncting 101, and you still want to be an adjunct at community colleges, below I’m offering my best advice for getting adjunct work after 16 years in the business.

But first of all, let’s be clear. I am an adjunct. I’ve never been on a hiring committee for adjunct positions (or any hiring committee for that matter), so what you’re getting here is an outsider’s view—or rather, a candidate’s view. I don’t know the reasons why community college department chairs do what they do—although it sure is fun to speculate! What I’m presenting below is my understanding of the process and what has worked for me. This is the advice I give to new adjuncts (in our super-fun, shared offices) who are looking for more work.

Adjuncts are often hired at the last minute (when the department is under stress to staff sections due to unexpected changes in staffing or to increase enrollment). The hiring process can be somewhat ad hoc at times, but it depends on the college (whether it’s a community college, state college, private university, or major research university), and the situation the department is facing in terms of staffing.   

The basic process of adjunct hiring is that you apply to an adjunct “pool” because departments need a range of people to call when a course needs staffing last minute.  Some schools are constantly taking applications for their adjunct pool, others—usually more selective schools in my experience—only open their adjunct pool for new applications when necessary. In the latter case, you have to be watching their employment website. When I wanted to get work with a particular school, I would bookmark their employment website and check it periodically for the adjunct pool openings. 

Once you’ve submitted your application—which can range from very simple (just a CV and cover letter) to more traditional for academic positions (CV, cover letter, teaching philosophy, sample syllabus and so forth)—there are two general interview scenarios that you might encounter.

Scenario #1

Sometimes the department knows in advance that they need multiple new instructors.  In that case they do a pretty traditional interview situation with a hiring committee, and in the case of community colleges, the interview might include a writing sample or a teaching demonstration. The specifics of the interview will depend a lot on the field.  For example, it’s pretty common for English Departments to ask candidates to grade a sample student essay and then explain the rationale for their comments and grade as part of the interview.

Scenario #2

If the department is caught with last-minute unstaffed sections, the interview can be much more informal. Several times, I’ve gotten jobs after nothing more than a very brief meeting with the chair.

Because of the latter interview scenario, my number one piece of advice for getting adjunct work is to make yourself visible at key times.    

After your CV is part of that adjunct pool, there are key times of the year when you want to remind the department chair of your target community college of your existence.  The sweet spots, in my opinion, are in the middle of the summer for fall work, and October or November for spring hiring. Those are the times when I advise you email the chair something very short and sweet, like, “I just wanted to let you know that I am still available to teach classes this fall if you have any unstaffed sections. I have already submitted my materials to HR, but attached is my CV for your reference.”  

I was advised to take this approach by the chair in a department that I worked for early in my career.  It’s gotten me a new job on several occasions. It’s all about maintaining contact, but not being annoying.

To conclude, my other general piece of advice is: Go do something else!  I’m only half-kidding. I love teaching where I teach, but honestly, I wish I’d made different choices early on, or at least had a better sense of how you can get sort of sucked into the cycle of adjunct work. My advice is that if you want to teach, teach a class on the side while you pursue other things that can provide you with more stable employment.  Have an exit plan and make sure that it doesn’t involve getting a full-time faculty position.

Author bio: Dr. Lauren Nahas has a PhD in English from the University of Texas at Austin.  She is a full-time adjunct in the San Francisco Bay Area.