An Adjunct Instructor’s Toolkit

a diverse group of adjunct instructors in a conversation
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They say that 12.5 percent of adults consider becoming an adjunct instructor. Okay, I made that up. However, it is a dream of many with postgraduate education.

Being an adjunct keeps me sharp in my knowledge and provides the rewarding experience of preparing the next generation. One of my first adjunct teaching jobs came after I made multiple attempts to my local community college’s Dean to give me a shot to teach a Business course. After following up for a few months, he finally arranged a meeting with the Department Chair. In this meeting, I discussed how I am educationally well versed and how I can relate to people. Apparently, that sat well with him.

He simply stated “I don’t need you, but I want you in our department to help build a solid bench.” Being told that I am wanted set me up for perhaps the most rewarding experience I could ask for! Not only is being an adjunct instructor a fun experience, I get paid to do it!

Have some questions about starting your adjunct career? Before you embark on your journey, this article should provide the answers, or at least point you in the right direction.

How to get the job

There’s tough competition to get an adjunct position these days. The best way to get noticed is to show your blended professional and educational experiences. Many folks have degrees, but how you use those degrees through your professional experiences is what the hiring officials want to see. In the end, the hiring officials want instructors who will prepare students for the “real world” and be a good professional example.

By being an adjunct instructor at over five institutions, I realized the best way to get the job is to go for the job! Reach out to the Department Chairs for the specific area of study you are interested in teaching for. Be quick in your pitch. End with the questions “What are the next steps?” and “When can I follow up?”

The interview will mainly revolve around your education and professional experiences, your availability and the main question of how you are planning to have an impact on student learning. Talk about why you want to do the job of an adjunct instructor and what motivates you about helping students. If you are only in it for the money, then this is perhaps not the best job for you.

How to prepare

Course facilitation

To effectively facilitate your course, ask yourself “If I was a student, what would I want to learn?” Knowing the subject matter is one thing, but delivering the concepts effectively to where students are going to keep coming back to class is a critical metric you will be judged on by your superiors. Enrollment is one of the key metrics and your superiors will look at student feedback on how your teaching reflects the material and the overall class.

A good strategy for course facilitation is to include light lectures, classroom discussions and group activities. Students want a fun learning environment and as an instructor it is your job to develop strategies to be engaging.


Be prepared to attend department meetings, college events on campus and other meeting opportunities with government officials, businesses, and other influential individuals.

Find mentors ― the best mentors on campus are generally the more tenured instructors. You must feel comfortable enough to ask for help on student/administrative related concerns.

A great way to have mentors be on your side is to ask to use their syllabus as an example to create your own, and follow up with them to evaluate your teaching whether online or in-person. Ultimately, you need to reach out to potential mentors who you respect, and hope they are willing to reciprocate with their time.

How to start the job

Know your assigned course

Do not accept a teaching assignment unless you know the subject matter! Just because you have a degree in a certain field does not mean you know all the intricacies. If your Department Chair asks you to teach the course regardless of your strength on the topic, spend at least two weeks prior learning about the subject.

My best strategy is to find content online and read the book that you are assigning to your students. Another strategy is to reach out to your publisher early and ask for materials they have that can quickly get you up to speed! Cengage has excellent support materials to get you caught up.

Ask for learning objectives and a syllabus

Your best resources for this material will be from your Department Chair and other fellow instructors. Ask about course materials and know your options, such as:

  • Freedom in choosing material
  • Print or eBook
  • Publisher course materials
  • Online Learning Platform
  • Learning Management System (LMS)
  • Embedded course kit
  • Bookstore and student purchase model
  • Standards of the school and department

Rely on other course instructors to help you with templates. Feel free to ask for templates of their syllabus, emails and other written materials they are willing to share with you. Building relationships will certainly help you!

Know your publisher support team

The greatest secret about being a successful adjunct instructor is to know your publishing team ASAP! It took me two years to learn this secret because no one in my department openly discussed this.

Once I figured out that I liked certain materials, I reached out to the the publishing team. Each college has a publishing representative who is there to help. My rep from Cengage has helped me countless times by setting up my Canvas shell, providing affordable book options for my students and providing help for my students with technical issues.

The publishers are also well connected with the college bookstores. Engaging with the college bookstore managers and publishers before the course starts will ensure your class has a smooth start and that everyone is on the same page.

Understand institutional requirements and accreditation

Your institution may have enrollment staff who will ask you to provide attendance records and grade checks for students. You may need to log into certain software platforms to report your feedback.

If there are students who are struggling, you will be asked to reach out to them directly and/or create an alert in the college’s internal system, so administrators can reach out to them as well.

How to get administration to notice you

Make sure to answer your emails and phone calls from administrators quickly, complete your trainings in a timely manner and submit your administrative forms on time. Don’t drop a teaching assignment once given, and communicate often and early with your superiors about scheduling requests.

Be ready to teach classes on a last minute’s notice. Generally, the week before the semester begins creates lots of scheduling issues and you could be asked to teach a class on a moment’s notice.

Go to department meetings regularly and volunteer with department projects and initiatives even if you don’t get paid! Lastly, do not complain about your students.

How to avoid burnout

Build your community

Generally speaking, there will be plenty of opportunities to network due to multiple institutional events. The best way to build a community is to attend department meetings and other fun events. In order to build relationships on campus, you will need to show up and be ready to mingle.

Pause to find joy

While teaching will provide great joy, it is important to realize that you may be burning out. Feel free to take a vacation during the semester even if that means missing class for a few days. Discuss substitute options with your Department Chair. Generally, they will be flexible in finding you substitute teachers.

What may surprise you

Your adjunct experience goes beyond your academic career

  • Adaptability: covering lots of different classes at a moment’s notice
  • Critical-thinking: connecting concepts to the real-world
  • Networking: building professional and financial leads to help the department and college raise funds
  • Leadership: Helping the with school’s foundation and goals with expert training, advice and recommendations
  • Guidance: Assisting students with job recommendations and networking events, and teaching professional skill-building
  • Continuous learning: attending training sessions throughout the campus and community

Technology will make your life easier

  • Publisher learning platforms (my preference is Cengage MindTap!)
  • Kahoot
  • YouTube
  • Video conferencing with guest lecturers

 Expect the unexpected (in your classes):

  • Some late projects
  • Asking for extensions
  • Potential for academic dishonesty
  • Unfamiliarity with working in groups

But most importantly, expect your students to make teaching fun and inspire you!


Professor Nick Gera
Professor Nick Gera
Dr. Maeghen Kuhn
Dr. Maeghen Kuhn

Written by Professor Nick Gera, JD, MBA, MPP and Doctoral Candidate in collaboration with Dr. Maeghen M. Kuhn, Director of UC Online, Chair of General Studies and Assistant Professor.



Want to learn more about life as an adjunct instructor? Read “Spotlight on Adjunct Faculty in 2024.”