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How to Help Part-Time Instructors Get the Best Possible Start

One of the realities of the college and community college system is the extent to which we all rely on our part-time colleagues. Many part-time instructors teach at multiple institutions, and I like to say they are some of the hardest-working people at my school. Their class assignments are often not final until the students show up, and we do not hesitate to give them new course preps at the last minute. With all the challenges that part-time faculty face, how can we, their full-time colleagues, help make sure they are prepared, organized, and ready to do their best work to ensure student success?

The first question to ask, does your department have course leaders or mentors? Is there a full-time faculty member assigned to shepherd all instructors of a certain course? If the answer is “yes,” congratulations! If not, consider these duties for discussion in your department:

Duties of a Course Mentor

  • Maintain the syllabus and lead the college assessment plan for the course.
  • Advise prospective students with course questions.
  • Provide all instructors the common final exam every semester or common questions for assessment by the beginning of each semester.
  • Provide instructors other materials: guided notes, quizzes, exams, exam reviews, etc.
  • Decide on course materials, in consultation with other full-time faculty.
  • Enter materials into the book database each semester by the published deadline.
    • Communicate regularly with part-time instructors of the course, providing:
    • Course syllabus and schedule
    • LMS (Learning Management System, e.g. Blackboard) shell name, if available, for copying; highlight any additions or improvements for continuing instructors
    • Publisher electronic homework copy, if possible
    • An offer to meet at least once a semester, as a group or individually

Often it is a department or college culture that determines how much freedom part-time instructors have in modifying course policies and procedures. My experience is, though, that instructors greatly value being provided more, rather than less, structure. Reinventing the wheel is often not feasible or within the of scope part-timer’s job duties. An added benefit is that when policies and materials are consistent and well-documented, you may find your Dean or department chair will be able to support faculty more strongly when students have complaints or concerns.

Here are a few useful ways departments can offer well-structured guidelines and assistance to their part-time instructors:

  1. Course syllabi should be up-to-date, matching what is currently in the college’s “master syllabi.”

It is helpful if these master syllabi are stored in a singular place, which all faculty can access. Ask yourself this: if instructors wanted access at night or over the weekend, would they know where to look? Perhaps a site can be set up within your LMS that is accessible for all instructors, part and full time, in your department. This site can serve as the repository of materials for each course.

  1. Electronic course “shells” should also be maintained for each course.

Consider making the shell in the LMS “semester agnostic” to be easier to maintain. It should contain:

  • Points for all assignments and total points in the class should be accurate in the LMS grade book. Clean up the grade book periodically removing unused assignment titles.
  • Any common course policies for makeups, late work, etc. should be spelled out in announcement form.
  • Announcements in red type, made unavailable for students, can indicate tasks that instructors need to perform themselves, like posting a welcome announcement.
  • Editable schedules and “any-semester” syllabi, with instructions on how to edit and convert to PDF for posting to students.
  • Guided notes
  • Sample quizzes
  • PowerPoints for lectures
  1. The publisher's digital materials should be easy to copy and modify semester to semester.


  • Dates should be correct, with school breaks and holidays accounted for.
  • Assignment instructions should be stated clearly: the number of tries, late policy, proctoring instructions, and academic honesty statements.
  • Use “FOR INSTRUCTOR: DELETE AFTER READING” as a header on announcements for things that the instructor must update in the course, like the password for any proctored exams.

While different course mentors will vary in their approach and administration to this process, if you are the department chair, be sure to model the process yourself and thank your colleagues for performing these duties. A smooth start for all instructors serves to ensure students have the best experience possible.

About the Author

Lisa Rombes is recently retired as an instructor and chair of the Mathematics Department at Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She graduated with honors from Bowling Green State University in Ohio and Penn State University with degrees in Math Education. Her focus in school was Number Theory, and she always looks to convey to students that there is beautiful math other than that found in the Calculus sequence. She taught teaching developmental and first-year college math for 30 years, at the middle school, high school, and community college level. As chair, her focus was on student success, access, and quality of instruction. An early developer and instructor of online math courses, she is passionate about student success in this environment. Online course design is a real interest: Lisa also served on the college committee working to review the quality online courses in all subject areas. She loves looking at the "student view" and helping instructors see what their students see.

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