By Helene A. Matheny
When I returned to the United States from my graduate studies in London in 1998, I knew I wanted to teach, but didn’t really yet know how to find adjunct work. In the meantime, I needed some income! By strange fate, I happened to see a want ad for “planetarium instructor/director” in one of the local newspapers. Astronomy was the farthest thing from my graduate degree (Russian History and Literature), however the cosmos was one of my childhood passions and, coincidentally, I had worked in the local high school planetarium while in Middle School. Needless to say, I was hired, and although the little county-run facility, Trailside Nature and Science Center , had not upgraded its equipment since the 1980s, I relied on my creativity and flexibility to present shows and educational programs to school groups, scouts and the public. In the end, this job ended up preparing me to be an adjunct – as the bare bones environment helped to hone my organizational and improvisational skills. (They sadly have since closed the little planetarium in the center).
As Freeway Flyers, we often juggle odd hours and schedules. But that does not mean that we cannot also find fulfilling work that not only provides extra income, but complements and enhances our teaching as well. After my stint at the planetarium, I did get my first adjunct teaching job at a small community college, but I was able to find other related work, as well.
I taught for a couple of years at the Newark Museum, a small but well-stocked museum near Rutgers University. The facility has an extensive American Art collection, cultural exhibits on Africa, Asia and Native Americans, kid-friendly science labs, a planetarium, and an on-site 19th century school house and Victorian mansion. The museum offers all kinds of learning programs to schools and the public on history, culture, science and art — employing many experts from those many fields.
There are many similar museums throughout the country offering programs that intersect many fields of study and they are always looking for qualified educators. I found that working with artifacts and artwork to teach history in the museum enhanced my college classes as I began to use many of the same references and even some artifacts from the museum.
I also worked at a Jewish Cultural School for a while, again teaching history. This gave me yet another perspective and more material to bring to my college classes. In addition, I have also been a substitute teacher and completed my certification in social studies and English, though I quickly found out that teaching middle and high school was not my cup of tea. Nonetheless, the training in the alternate route program I took for certification gave me valuable skills and training I still use today.
Other opportunities for supplementing adjunct work are tutoring, government jobs, internships and volunteer work. While the latter two may not bring income, they often can enrich your experience of your subject. You’d also be surprised at some of the jobs that are available at the state and federal level that may be related to your field. I once interviewed for a state historian job that involved development of historical exhibits and programs in the State Capitol building of Mississippi. Even though I didn’t land that one, it gave me a new perspective on work that is available to academics.
Another path to consider is to take some extra graduate credits if there is another subject you are interested in teaching. A colleague of mine who teaches history recently completed 18 credits of graduate geography course. This helped her land a full-time position teaching both history and geography.