Given that many colleges and universities are hiring greater numbers of adjunct instructors, you’re likely to be working with several in your department or at your college. In fact, you may be an adjunct instructor yourself.

Of course, all college instructors share many common joys and challenges. And yet, you’ve probably observed (or experienced for yourself) that adjunct instructors face several experiences and needs unique to their employment situation.

And at that, not all “adjuncts” are alike. Some teach courses while holding down other types of jobs in their field of expertise (e.g., nursing, law, finance, or counseling). Others take jobs as adjuncts with the hope of eventually obtaining a full-time or tenure-track position. Still others take on adjunct roles that allow them to maintain a schedule centered around other responsibilities and interests.

In our recent Spring 2015 Instructor Engagement Insights survey, we asked adjunct instructors a number of questions designed to help us better understand their experiences. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing what we’ve learned from the adjuncts who responded.

We’ll begin by looking at the number of institutions where they teach. By so doing, we can gain some insight into their teaching responsibilities and the types of challenges they may face as they manage their workloads. We’ll also offer some suggestions that will help adjuncts get the new semester off to a good start.

Adjuncts and Teaching Commitments

No matter what or where you teach, taking on a job as an instructor requires a major commitment. However, if your responsibilities are spread among colleges—as many adjunct instructors’ are—you may find yourself facing some additional challenges.
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The majority of adjuncts who responded to our survey (62%) do report that they teach courses at one institution, which simplifies some administrative matters. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they spend less time in the classroom or working on courses.

On the other hand, more than one-third of the respondents said that they teach at two or more institutions; 26% teach at two institutions, and 12% teach at three or more. This may require a commute between campuses, which can take away from the time they’re able to spend connecting with students or colleagues, taking care of other tasks related to the course, or conducting their own research. For those whose responsibilities include one or more online courses, the “commute” may be more or less virtual, depending on their particular teaching situation.

Additionally, if adjuncts teach at more than one college, they must also get to know more than one set of colleagues, administrative staff, HR staff, and others who enable them to do their job successfully.

Many adjuncts also face the challenge of working within separate college systems. Of the respondents who indicated that they work at two or more schools, 77% work for colleges that are not part of the same college systems.

This could represent a variety of teaching situations. These adjuncts may they teach at a private and a public university, or a state college and a community college; they may straddle districts within their states; they could be working for a local college and an online college; or, they may teach for different online programs that stretch across cities (or states). Even if they solely teach online, they must still learn how to navigate and master the systems, learning solutions, and policies in place at each of their schools. What’s more, they need to keep two (or more) schools’ academic calendars in mind. On top of planning for and conducting their classes, grading assignments, and getting to know students, balancing these matters is no small feat!

What might this mean for you?

By taking a closer look at the factors that have an effect on adjunct instructors’ roles and responsibilities, we can better understand one another and work together more effectively.

But what if you yourself are an adjunct facing a hectic schedule, a long mid-day commute between campuses, or a brand-new job on a new campus? Here are some quick tips for managing your time and responsibilities successfully:

1. Get to know the school’s policies, procedures, and resources. As soon as you’re hired, become familiar with what is expected of you as an adjunct member of the school’s faculty. Review the school and department’s policies regarding such topics as absences, textbook selection, grading, and handling academic dishonesty. Peruse the academic calendar, so that you’re aware of important dates. Learn and follow any specific guidelines regarding syllabus structure, exams, and other matters pertaining to your instruction of the class, so that you don’t have to re-do your work. And don’t forget “the basics,” such as the locations of parking, the library… and of course,  your classroom! Many schools also offer a guidebook or handbook specifically designed for adjuncts; it will include just about all the information you’ll need as you begin your work.

2. Begin planning and prepping for your term as soon as you get your course assignments. Whether you have to follow a particular syllabus established by the department, or you need to craft the course from scratch, don’t wait any longer to get your course in gear. Review syllabi, lesson plans, and assignments that other instructors on the campus have developed. You should also get to know the school’s LMS early on, so you can avoid as many last-minute technical issues as you can. The more up-front work you do ahead of time, the less you’ll have to worry about when it’s time for class to start.

3. Know who’s available to help you. Make a list of the people who can answer your questions and assist you. Include such people and departments as administrative staff, technical support, the audiovisual department, the bookstore manager, librarians, and human resources; keep their names, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers handy. (Need help getting set up on a Cengage Learning solution? We offer a variety of services and programs to support you! Learn more about Cengage Learning’s Engagement Services.)

4. Put your best time-management habits into effect. You may not be able to control the amount of time you spend commuting to your jobs, working on campus, or sitting at your computer. However, you can develop and employ some strategies to help you use the remaining hours of the day to your best advantage. Review our simple hints for making the most of your time, which include using “down time” effectively and blocking off “quiet time” for yourself.

Whether you work with adjunct instructors, or you are one yourself, we hope that our series of posts provides insights that benefit your day-to-day activities, as well as  your interactions with others at your institution. Join us next week for the next installment; we’ll be discussing adjuncts’ perspectives on full-time positions.

Are you an adjunct? Do these findings reflect your experience? Share your thoughts and insights on the adjunct experience in the comments.