Helping Adjuncts Avoid Stress

By Bruce A. Johnson, Ph.D., MBA

The life of an adjunct isn’t always easy. In fact, it can be very demanding when you have facilitation duties to complete and deadlines are looming. An instructor is expected create a classroom environment that promotes learning, while addressing students’ developmental needs. From the students’ perspective, it is expected that the instructor will be actively engaged in the class and responsive to their needs. When you are facing the pressure of these many demands, do you feel that you can effectively meet your responsibilities or do you experience stress on occasion? Do you find that you are reactively responding to classroom conditions, experiencing frustration, or feel overwhelmed at times? Instructors are likely to experience stress if they have not developed a plan for meeting their facilitation requirements. The potential for stress can be addressed through the use of proactive planning tools and self-reflection techniques.

Planning Tools
Instructors typically have two types of requirements. The facilitation demands that must be met include contractual requirements that often have deadlines. In contrast, the level of quality instructors provide for their feedback and classroom participation may also produce a demand upon their time. Utilizing a schedule that is established by responsibilities is an effective planning tool as facilitation duties can be divided up throughout the week and scheduled according to the required due dates. The most common methods of creating a schedule include the use of a planner, to-do checklist, or spreadsheet. Some instructors integrate technology and utilize email programs, alerts, and mobile devices. Because responsibilities may vary each week it is a good idea to review that schedule at the start of the class week and adjust it as needed.

Take Control of Your Time
An effective method of managing stress is management of your time, because the two are directly related to each other. If you have allocated enough time to complete the necessary facilitation duties you are likely to feel that you are in control of your schedule. This can reduce the likelihood of experiencing anxiety and stress. As you review your weekly time management plan you may want to be on the lookout for potential time traps that cause delays in meeting required deadlines. It may be necessary to weigh the importance of certain obligations and activities as you plan and prioritize your weekly schedule. If there is a perception of a lack of time, that can increase the potential for stress. Managing your time is a balancing process and one that is perfected through trial and error.

Time for Renewal
Have you considered adding downtime to your weekly schedule? What does it mean for you to have downtime? Some instructors find it imperative to allocate specific time for their family, friends, or other social activities. Other instructors will schedule time for professional development. Regardless of the meaning or the use of downtime that period of time can help to reframe your thoughts and perspective of your weekly duties. Many instructors feel a sense of rejuvenation when they have included “me” time during the week. Whether it is a few minutes or several hours, this can lead to a feeling of being refreshed, which may reduce the impact of an intensely busy work week and the potential for stress.

Good Stress, Bad Stress
The word “stress” carries a negative connotation because of the potential outcome or consequences. A busy work week can be stressful and generate a positive outcome if a schedule has been established to effectively manage your time. This may result in increased self-motivation and self-confidence, knowing that you can complete all of your responsibilities without feeling stress or frustration. When you feel that there is a shortage of time you are likely to have a negative reaction.

One of the factors that can distinguish good stress from bad stress is your perception. The way that stress is perceived often determines how it is addressed and handled. All instructors have the potential to experience some form of stress each week. When you perceive a busy week as something that is beyond your control or you are not fully prepared, you may experience stress. If you have a plan for managing your time and your working environment you are likely to feel in control. You can increase your ability to manage stress by interrupting negative patterns of thought and reflecting on ways of adjusting your schedule.

Be On the Lookout
As you review your weekly schedule it may be helpful to consider what triggers the potential for stress. For example, you may have lengthy student assignments to review and not allowing adequate time to provide feedback may result in stress. Your well-being is another factor to consider. If you aren’t getting enough rest you may increase the likelihood of feeling frustrated. When you can manage your schedule effectively, without experiencing stress, you are able to maximize your effectiveness as an instructor. One method of identifying potential stress triggers is to use self-reflection and review the outcome of your schedule, along with your reaction to the facilitation requirements that week.

Be Proactive
A proactive approach to your weekly schedule helps to avoid reactive and potentially negative emotions, which create a perception and feeling of stress. If you are actively planning ahead and preparing for your facilitation duties you can maintain a sense of control and avoid feeling overwhelmed. Consider the two possible outcomes at the end of your class week. Do you want to feel that you have accomplished all of your required tasks and created a meaningful learning environment? If so, consider your attitude and perception, along with the tools that you can implement to create a positive state of mind. Your students are likely to notice your ability to handle stress and this can influence their perception of your effectiveness as an instructor. Learning to proactively manage stress may also increase your enjoyment of the process of facilitating a class as you are experiencing positive outcomes.

About the Mentor: Dr. Bruce Johnson has had a life-long love of learning and throughout his entire career he has been involved in many forms of adult education; including teaching, training, human resource development, coaching, and mentoring. Dr. J has completed a master’s in Business Administration and a Ph.D. in the field of adult education, with an emphasis in adult learning within an online classroom environment. Presently Dr. J works as an online adjunct instructor, faculty developmental workshop facilitator, and faculty mentor.

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