As we’ve observed throughout our series on adjunct instructors, they’re not a monolithic group.
However, as we’ve looked over their responses to our Spring 2015 Engagement Insights survey, we have observed some commonalities and trends, especially in terms of what they value about the job, and what they find difficult.
Previously, we explored the benefits of working as an adjunct instructor, which revealed that teaching topics they’re passionate about and making connections with students were their top sources of fulfillment.
We also reviewed the data from our survey to better understand the challenges that adjunct instructors face.
Below, you’ll see the results of the survey, and also review some tips that can help adjunct instructors overcome their challenges and achieve the success they hope to reach.
Top challenges of teaching as an adjunct instructor
As you’ll see in the chart below, three factors stand out as adjuncts’ top challenges.
Nearly two-thirds of the adjuncts who responded said that compensation and benefits (63%) and job stability (60%) are among their more pressing concerns. These numbers reflect many of the reports we’ve read in higher-education news outlets regarding adjuncts’ concerns about their salaries and employment.
Almost half of adjuncts (49%) said that they’re challenged by the availability of “too few courses.” The lack of available courses hampers their ability to do what they enjoy doing (teaching), while also having an impact on their financial situations (if they can’t get work as instructors, they obviously aren’t getting paid).
When asked to narrow these factors down to the most challenging aspect, these three account for nearly three-quarters of the votes. “Job stability” came in the highest at 27%, closely followed by “compensation/benefits” (23%), and “too few courses” (22%). These results underline the seriousness of the situation to many instructors who have taken on the adjunct role.
Other challenges adjuncts face
Interactions with fellow instructors also figure prominently in the overall results. Forty percent named “poor connections to colleagues/institution” as a challenge. However, only 6% chose it as the worst factor, indicating that a good segment find it troublesome, but it’s not among their uppermost concerns.
A similar trend occurred around the factors of “last-minute teaching assignments” and “job competition”; around one quarter of respondents (27% and 26%, respectively) said that these were significant problems, yet fairly few view them as the key concern.
Taking on a load of “too many courses” presents a challenge to the least number of those we surveyed. Only 5% said that it posed any sort of challenges, and no one listed it as the most significant challenge that they face.
By taking the time to consider these adjuncts’ responses, we have a much better sense of the factors that have an impact on their personal and professional lives. As noted above, these findings do echo what we’ve been reading in the news lately. But what can adjuncts do to overcome these challenges… or, at the very least, take hold of opportunities to be the best they can in their current role? Read on for some tips from someone who’s been there.
Addressing challenges: Pro tips for adjuncts, from an adjunct
Bridgett McGowen-Hawkins, Senior Digital Educator with Cengage Learning, knows quite a bit about the adjunct experience. Her work as an adjunct for the Lone Star College System in Texas (2002 through 2008) and her current role as an adjunct facilitating online classes with University of Phoenix since 2006 have given her a deep understanding of the challenges in both the face-to-face and online adjunct worlds. Below, she’s shared some suggestions that will help adjuncts address the challenges they’re facing and make the most of their teaching opportunities.
Community. When you become an adjunct, it is imperative you develop your own community on the campus at which you teach. With the large number of adjuncts on campuses – in some instances, they greatly outnumber full-time faculty – an adjunct can easily (and oftentimes unfairly) become only a number on the roster; however, you can proactively change that and your potential.
First, ensure your department chair, department head, division dean – the person in authority who’s responsible for your teaching schedule – knows you, your name, and what you do. Interact as often as possible just as you would if you were a full-time employee at the institution, using electronic communication to replace missed face-to-face opportunities. You might share an innovative approach you took to teaching a course concept, a new idea for integrating educational technology into your classroom, or a unique project you assigned your students. Get the word out to as many as possible that you are passionate about (and good at!) what you do; others will take notice!
Second, connect with the division administrative assistant. With this important contact, you can share your availability to substitute for full-time or other adjunct faculty who may have emergencies and need class coverage. You can also have the assistant identify for you the list of adjuncts in your area so you can reach out to them to form your own type of community – whether it is meeting briefly before the start of class or creating an online community.
Third, most institutions offer a back-to-school orientation or convocation for full-time faculty and staff; make the recommendation that a similar event take place at an ideal time for adjuncts. Suggest the event cover topics such as the history of the institution as well as how to handle emergencies. You might even offer to help plan and deliver orientation sessions.
Finally, teach as if you are full-time. Do full-time faculty have students use online resources for class? Find some edtech tools you like, and follow suit! Do full-time faculty require a research paper and students spend time at the library? You include a similar project as well! Are full-time faculty incorporating service-learning into their courses? You design a service-learning project, too! Show students this is a community of learning, and the caliber of learning they get in their other classes that may be taught by full-time faculty is no different from the caliber they receive in your classes. As a matter of fact, they may find your classes even more engaging!
These are some tips to position you to become known as more than a part-timer. Of course, compensation or benefits will not automatically improve nor will the number of classes you teach suddenly increase, but this is advice to aid in you strengthening your voice so you can become identified as a serious, consummate professional who, if any opportunities should arise, would be an asset, a viable candidate to serve a greater need at the institution.
Resources and support for adjunct instructors
Cengage Learning recognizes that, as an adjunct, you face many of the above-named challenges (and, likely, more). But we don’t want a lack of course support to be among them!
We’ve created a site specifically for adjunct instructors, where you can find resources and people that will answer questions about your course materials, help you set up and implement your Cengage Learning digital solutions, and work with you to identify strategies that will engage your students and drive improved outcomes.
Visit http://services.cengage.com/adjunct to get started!