How to Tell if You are Doing a Good Job as an Adjunct Instructor

Piss Poor Prof, also known as Burnt-Out Adjunct, describes the adjunct as being “the academic equivalent of a fry cook.”  Then there is Dr. Burton Fletcher, who calls adjuncts “the burros of academia.” In a world where adjunct instructors have become the Rodney Dangerfield of higher education, how can you know if you’re appreciated or doing a good job? The freeway flyer needs to pay attention, because positive reinforcement can come from many sources, and often it is from your students.

  • You overhear someone. I heard a student describe a conversation with another student who took the same class with a different instructor. He evidently had commented on some of the assignments being done in this class. “He said they didn’t have to do a lot of these assignments. I told him that’s why they say this instructor’s so good.” This came at the end of a very long day which made it even nicer to hear.
  • Your student evaluations are good. For example, if my numbers are consistently as good or better than the course mean, i.e., my numbers compared to everyone else’s who teach the same class, I know I am doing well.
  • You get good “word of mouth.” Students advise their friends to sign up for your sections. I figured this out one year when it seemed I was getting a disproportionately large number of hockey players in my classes.
  • You get repeat customers. Students who begin with your remedial class sign up for sections of your subsequent classes. They say, “I was dreading this class, but I knew you would get me through it.”
  • They remember you after the fact. You might get an email one or more semesters later, asking you how you are doing or thanking you for the class.
  • Your work becomes part of the course. Some assignments you developed are put onto a drive accessible to other instructors who will teach the course. By the way, remember to add these to your personal portfolio.
  • You witness success stories. I’m thinking of a student who dreaded taking the required composition class so much, he waited to take it until the last semester before he was to graduate. That semester he was surprised to discover he liked the weekly journal writing and the essay writing; in fact, an essay of his received an honorable mention in the college’s annual essay contest.

These small instances of success may not translate to increased income or even accolades (at least not immediately), but they can increase personal satisfaction. You are good at what you do and what you do matters. Realizing this is the beginning of receiving the respect you are due and will help you to continue to teach with the confidence you should have.

Leave a comment and tell me of some of your “small successes.” I would welcome hearing about them.

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