It is no secret that traditional adjunct or part-time faculty usually work at multiple institutions to support themselves and their families. For this article, I refer to traditional adjunct faculty as persons who rely solely on part-time teaching opportunities for financial support. Without the assigned courses, part-time faculty do not have other means of income to provide and pay their bills. Being an adjunct can be stressful because of fear of classes being canceled due to low enrollment or being bumped from a class because a full-time faculty member needed to take the course to make their load. On top of the stress of potentially losing a course, being an adjunct can be highly confusing as the jobs, responsibilities, expectations, and tasks can vary from institution to institution. However, there are a few things that all adjuncts should be aware of when thinking about maintaining a flow and being successful in their roles across institutions.
It is common to find that most higher education institutions have multiple ranks, even for adjunct faculty. I have seen institutions range from 2-3 levels of rank for adjunct faculty. Education level, work experience, and teaching experience are factors that determine which level you may start. From there, the institution’s adjunct faculty handbook should outline criteria on which you may be evaluated to be promoted to the next rank. While title and rank are important for some, promotion to a higher rank also comes with a monetary increase, which for adjuncts is always appreciated. As an adjunct, you should look for your adjunct faculty handbook and become familiar with the requirements of eligibility for promotion. Additionally, here are some things to be thinking about as soon as you start your adjunct position at a new institution:
It is standard for all faculty to be evaluated on their performance as an instructor. Evaluation periods may differ per institution. However, as an adjunct, you should anticipate being evaluated once a semester, even if that is not the case. It is better to stay prepared than to be caught off guard. Evaluations are meant to help you continue growing as an adjunct. So, you should view this opportunity as a continuous improvement experience, not as a process meant to discourage you from teaching. Keep an open mind, review the observer rubric before being evaluated, prepare, and have fun. When the evaluation period has ended, be sure to request a meeting with your observer if they do not request one with you. This meeting should be to review in detail your performance and what was observed. Your observer will usually be your department chair or a full-time faculty member in the department. Moreover, an evaluation should always start and end with a conversation. That is, rapport should be built and each person in the process should feel comfortable asking questions. Time should be built in to not only cover the review, but also for colleagues to get to know each other.
Before the evaluation period, you want to get clear on what is expected of you. You should be asking questions to become familiar with expectations on your first day. Do not wait until an evaluation period to ask about what you should be doing in your role. While it seems fundamental, it is always important to ask, as different institutions have varying responsibilities and expectations for adjuncts.
2. Teaching Effectiveness
While being an effective instructor is expected of adjuncts and directly connected to evaluations, we must define what it means to produce effective teaching. Your institution should determine and communicate what it means and looks like to demonstrate effective teaching. At a previous institution where I taught, effective teaching was defined as being flexible, meeting students where they are, providing clear guidelines and expectations for students, and encouraging students to utilize all resources available to them, to name a few. As an instructor, you should also be identifying ways to measure your teaching and its effectiveness while also documenting these efforts. Remember, documentation of teaching effectiveness is critical, no matter how big or small the endeavor. An example would be an adjustment you made based on student feedback.
3. Student Opinion Forms
Lastly, student opinion forms matter. While this may seem like extra work, it is vital to review your student opinion forms and make necessary adjustments when appropriate. As a full-time faculty member and department chair, I know that many students go the extra mile to complete an opinion form only when they have had a really great experience or a not-so-great experience. So, while this data can be on opposite extremes in some cases, we mustn’t ignore it. As adjuncts, reviewing the data, considering the comments, and making even minor adjustments can go a long way. Additionally, you should keep track of the reviews in the student opinion forms and what you plan to do differently in future semesters or what you did differently. This documentation shows commitment to continuous improvement and professional development and a sense of care for the profession. This will help show your institution that you are invested in your role, department, and students.
Once you can become clear on what is expected of you in your adjunct role, you can learn the flow and create a routine to help support your success. Once you have a routine that works for you, mastering the adjunct flow at multiple institutions becomes more natural. So, I encourage all adjuncts to locate their adjunct faculty handbooks, review requirements for promotion, check in with your department chair to review expectations for your role, and enjoy the experience.
Do you have additional tips to add to the list? Or have specific strategies to help adjuncts master the flow of teaching at multiple institutions? Please share. Feel free to send your responses via Twitter @TomlinAntione so that we can continue this conversation!
Dr. Antione D. Tomlin earned his PhD in Language, Literacy, and Culture from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and is an assistant professor + Chair of the Academic Literacies Department at Anne Arundel Community College.
Any opinions, findings, and conclusion or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Interfolio.