A Trio of Handbooks for Adjunct Faculty

 

“I don’t want to see the file full of letters you’ve gotten from students telling you how much they liked your class. I have this same file too. Give me something instead that shows me how much they learned in your class. Give me the graded student essay that shows me how creative you are as a teacher, something that verifies that you taught them something.” (remarks of Jaima Bennett, Chairman of Speech Communications at Golden West Community College in Huntington Beach, California, to audience of full-time job seekers, April 15, 2003)

by Vicki Urquhart

If you’re considering joining the ranks of, or if you already are one of the quarter of a million adjunct professors employed annually at the nation’s institutions of higher education, it simply isn’t enough to have a couple of degrees and a feeling that you’d be good at teaching adults. Sooner or later, you’ll be asked to verify that you’ve taught your students something.

So, before beginning as an adjunct professor, you’ll want to be as prepared as you possibly can be. And if you’re already in the college classroom and hoping to grasp that brass ring of full-time employment, you’ll need to distinguish yourself with your skills and knowledge of teaching. One of the best ways to become very good at teaching is to avail yourself of the right resources, such as the guidebooks reviewed here. One of them is likely to be the right resource for you.

THE ADJUNCT PROFESSOR’S GUIDE TO SUCCESS: SURVIVING AND THRIVING IN THE COLLEGE CLASSROOM

Richard E. Lyons, Marcella L. Kysilka, & George E. Pawlas

1999, 202 pp., $36 (paperback) (order online at www.abacon.com for $28)

This guidebook is based on the premise that many adjunct professors enter the classroom with little or no training in teaching and classroom management techniques. Thus, the authors begin with guidance for anyone who is seeking an initial adjunct position and the rest of the guide takes a logical path. Lyons is the instructional dean at Indian River Community College who began his academic career as an adjunct professor and has since gone on to actively coach more than one hundred other adjunct professors. Kysilka and Pawlas, faculty members at the University of Central Florida, have each written extensively on teaching and learning.

The book is intended as a toolkit containing aids such as an orientation checklist, model course syllabi, exam construction exercises, and related tools that enable the adjunct professor to be successful from the start. It begins by addressing issues such as becoming oriented to the institution, planning the course, and conducting an effective first class meeting. Each chapter includes lists of “Do’s and Don’ts,” and a section called “Through the Adjunct’s Eyes,” which relays the experiences and perspectives of three fictional new adjunct professors. Although this approach successfully adds voice to what is basically a handbook, it limits the reader to a choice between a part-time attorney, a teaching assistant, and a retired Fortune 500 executive, which might be a stretch for a lot of readers. “Tips for Thriving,” a bulleted review of key points and suggested additional readings, concludes each chapter. While all of these strategies and tips are great to have, at some point the authors need to state the obvious: new adjunct professors should ask questions and get to know their colleagues.

Final chapters cover self-evaluation and techniques for building a part-time career in academe. This would have been the perfect time to address the question of how to know when adjunct instruction isn’t for you, an issue that should have been included. Instead, the authors optimistically assume that anyone who uses the guide will be effective, and that that success will translate into job satisfaction. Nevertheless, this is a very helpful book, clearly written, replete with practical advice, and with an extensive reference list that supports the guidance. I would confidently hand The Adjunct Professor’s Guide to Success to anyone who was interested in teaching as an adjunct professor.

A HANDBOOK FOR ADJUNCT/PART-TIME FACULTY AND TEACHERS OF ADULTS, 5TH EDITION

Donald Greive

2004, 127 pp., $16.00 (paperback)

Donald Greive has produced a fifth edition of his how-to teaching manual for adjunct faculty. Intended as a quick reference source, the handbook gives a brief overview of college-level teaching and includes some strategies to use in the classroom. Regarding his reasons for brevity and practicality, Greive writes, “adjunct faculty still maintain full-time jobs outside the institution and have limited time available for extensive reading and research concerning teaching.” (p.7)

Greive is a former Dean of Academic, Evening, and Part-time Services at a major community college and has spent the majority of his career as a faculty member and an administrator of part-time faculty. He has written extensively on the role of adjunct faculty and their training needs and is the founder and editor of “Adjunct Info-A Journal for Managers of Adjunct and Part-time Faculty.”

The original handbook was published more than a decade ago, and this revision takes into account the shift in academia toward a greater emphasis on technology in the classroom and on student-centered learning. One of the most helpful chapters is “Teaching Adult Students” wherein Greive presents Knowles’s andragogical model, which focuses on the role of adjunct professor as facilitator rather than leader. The book moves through relevant topics, from how to prepare a course syllabus to grading the final exam and to discussions of ethics and diversity, but Greive nearly oversimplifies everything in his effort to be concise.

The same is true of the book’s format. Although the charts, checklists, and sample documents are helpful, the “Keys to Success” and “Caution Light” icons are just too obvious. Background information in the form of a research base is missing, and the reference list is sparse. Overall, the most useful chapters in this new edition describe classroom strategies and teaching techniques.

McKEACHIE’S TEACHING TIPS: STRATEGIES, RESEARCH, AND THEORY FOR COLLEGE AND UNIVERSITY TEACHERS

Wilbert J. McKeachie

2002, 371 pp., $39.16 (paperback)

Bill McKeachie, Professor Emeritus and former Chairman of the Department of Psychology at the University of Michigan, knows what he’s talking about. A few pages into the 11th edition of this classic, and any reader will understand that McKeachie gets it. Admirably, McKeachie also knows when he’s not the expert, so he has included chapters written by colleagues and other recognized authorities in areas such as technology and teaching, motivation, and valuing student differences.

Readers say they most appreciate the book’s mix of theory and practical suggestions, but McKeachie’s style also has appeal. For example, he doesn’t mince words when it comes to academe’s most favored teaching technique, the lecture. “Don’t do it,” he says, if it’s conclusion-oriented, as the vast majority of lectures are. If you must lecture, he advises that you do it well and provides a sample introduction, body, and conclusion of an effective lecture. A few pages over, he provides a thorough analysis of how students process information from lectures, explaining how most lectures can be improved. McKeachie repeats his “Don’t do it” dictum in the chapter on assessing, testing, and evaluation, when he addresses the practice of grading on the curve, which he says increases student anxiety and discourages collaborative learning.

Truthfully, most instructors, even experienced ones, will benefit from reading McKeachie’s Teaching Tips. It is brimming with methodology, sage advice, research-based strategies, and human understanding of the art and craft of teaching. His respect for the profession and its members is evident when he says, “I have visited hundreds of colleges and universities, both in this country and in others. What most impresses me is that, no matter how difficult the circumstances, there are always some vital, effective teachers. They come in no one personality, no one discipline, no one institution.” (p. 333)

None of these books is necessarily meant to be read cover to cover. The Adjunct Professor’s Guide offers explicit instruction and detailed examples, A Handbook for Adjunct/Part-Time Faculty is a speedy reference, and Teaching Tips has solid research combined with readable discussion and practical strategies. The first two focus on the needs of the first-time instructor, while the third supplies good information to anyone in the classroom. More importantly, finding and reading a good guidebook is just the first step. Select the book that you think will be right for you, and one whose path you think you can follow.

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