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Before You Start: 4 Tips for New Adjuncts

A new semester is on the horizon—and that means last-minute scheduling shifts, new students, and a chaotic return to campus. For adjuncts, this perennial shake-up is often a good opportunity to “move,” taking on new assignments at unfamiliar schools. There are numerous reasons for switching from one college to another—better pay, stronger unions, greater flexibility—but leaping into new territory is never less than daunting for part-timers. What then should adjuncts do to prepare themselves for a hectic semester on a new campus?

  1. Study Those Learning Objectives

The work of an adjunct is a balancing act—a quest to teach freely and personally while (simultaneously) meeting the expectations and course outcomes dictated by the department. From school to school, these guidelines will differ wildly.

Since adjuncts typically teach at more than one school, it is imperative that they get acquainted with each department’s guidelines as early as possible. Studying this (often very long) list will help in two practical ways:

  • Creating a Relevant Syllabus 

Learning outcomes and course recommendations help a part-timer to begin constructing a relevant syllabus. If there is a review conducted by course coordinators, no syllabus will “pass” if it does not meet the department’s standards. Rather than enter into a time-consuming revision and resubmission process at summer’s end, adjuncts can save themselves a lot of wasted time by making sure they first understand what’s expected.

  • Understanding School Differences and Commonalities 

Absorbing these parameters allows adjuncts to see commonalities and differences between this “new” school and any others at which they are employed. As instructors learn a new set of objectives, they can get creative with their multiple syllabi and streamline their work for the semester. For example, if School A requires four keystone assignments and School B only requires three, an adjunct may choose to stagger these assignments to avoid crowding. If certain assignments can be duplicated from department to department (minimizing prep work) he or she can make sure they align on both syllabi. In learning what’s expected, the adjunct can create a modicum of balance between different schools.

  1. Travel Your Commute-- and Don't Simply Chart It

Keeping in mind that campuses are less crowded in summertime, it’s a good idea for any adjunct to first plot his or her commute—and then actually travel it. Liaising between different colleges can be a scheduling nightmare for part-time instructors, and while course assignments may not conflict on paper, morning traffic, intercampus buses, and long stretches of foot travel can make the laid plans go awry. For these reasons and more, it’s important to test three different legs of the adjunct commute:

  • Home to school
  • From school to school
  • From the parking lot to the classroom
  1. Make Sure You Have Relevant Course Materials

Once instructors receive their schedule and class assignments, they ought to seek out any relevant or necessary course materials. Which text(s) are required for this particular course? Is there an accompanying digital software? Since departments frequently change classroom resources, it’s important to ask the department chair or department secretary for instructor copies before the start of class. After all, how can anyone build a syllabus (or hope to teach a course) without having the same text and online resources as the students?

If departments require online software for classroom instruction, it’s a good idea to ask about available training resources. Some departments schedule specific training times on campus to help adjuncts get familiar with new software programs. However, coming to campus is not always feasible for the busy adjunct. Instructors ought to keep in mind that most publishers, like McGraw-Hill Education, also have online training resources available to faculty—online “how to” videos and user guidestechnical support, and 1:1 online training sessions.

  1. Go to the Orientation

Before a semester starts, there are often two orientation dates to watch out for—one is usually offered by the school-at-large (to welcome new adjuncts) and the other is department-specific (to acclimate them to key needs and expectations). For seasoned adjuncts, these can often seem redundant and unnecessary; however, while much of the coverage isn’t exactly new information, orientation dates provide an excellent opportunity to pose very different questions.

At the university-wide welcome, part-timers will often have an opportunity to meet their union representatives. As a result, they ought to ask a few key questions:

  • Is there any recourse or partial compensation offered if a class is canceled at the eleventh hour?
  • What is the union currently hoping to negotiate in terms of higher pay or bargaining power?
  • What is the evaluation process like?
  • Who should I contact if I have any questions or issues at a later date?

Later, at the department-specific meeting, a new hire should use the time to make contacts and build relationships. Here, one might find a faculty mentor, meet a fellow adjunct with whom to share materials or get some face time with the department chair or course coordinator. This sort of networking is essential for the forthcoming semester. As adjuncts can often feel like independent contractors, disconnected from the departmental rhythms and colleagues that lend them a greater sense of belonging, it is important to forge connections early—before the mad whirl of a new semester begins.

About the Author

Professor Ray Dademo is an adjunct professor of English at Rutgers University, Montclair State University, and Middlesex County College. He holds an MFA in Nonfiction Writing from Columbia University and a BA in English from Fordham University. His pedagogy involves the use of cinematic literacy as an entry point for composition studies. He has recently co-authored an article for the CEA Critic, titled "Narrating the Moviegoing Experience: Reframing Film for First-Year Composition.

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