A Collection of Resources for First-Time Adjunct Instructors

Written by: Christie Forgette

Adjuncts compose a significant proportion of faculty at institutions of higher education, and every semester a large number of newly hired adjunct instructors need to prepare to teach for the first time. 

Adjunct teachers are instructors hired on a non–tenure track basis, usually part-time. They may be practitioners in their field or pursuing careers in academia after earning the terminal degree in their field. Adjuncts are also often called contingent faculty, because they have contracts limited to one semester or term.

Online discussion about adjunct instructors often focuses on issues such as the financial stress that adjuncts may face or the risk that institutions may over-rely on adjuncts. Adding to the challenge of adjuncting for the first time is that these faculty rarely have access to the same professional development support and working conditions that tenure-track faculty have. Adjuncts often are hired to take on a class at the very last minute—sometimes even after the semester has begun.

Though a serious discussion of reforming the so-called adjunctification of higher education is necessary, in the meantime, recently hired adjunct instructors should focus on the immediate concerns of writing a syllabus, planning a course schedule, developing good assessments, and managing their time. Below is a collection of resources for first-time adjuncts who need to get oriented to their role quickly.

Books on Adjunct Teaching

A few recent books comprehensively cover the role and responsibilities of first-time adjuncts, though it is difficult to find any that address teaching online or with digital learning technologies in particular.

A Handbook for Adjunct/Part-Time Faculty and Teachers of Adults, which has gone to seven editions, is a broad source that includes discussion of pedagogy for first-time adjuncts, advice for day-to-day issues in the classroom, a step-by-step overview of a semester, and tips for integrating technology.

Essential Teaching Principles: A Resource Collection for Adjunct Faculty attempts to establish a foundation in sound pedagogical theory for first-time adjuncts and also serves as an ongoing reference tool with practical advice. It includes a chapter on the fundamentals of teaching online.

Quick Hits for Adjunct Faculty and Lecturers: Successful Strategies from Award-Winning Teachers is a short book comprising a few dozen short, informative essays from experienced adjuncts on balancing competing demands, addressing students’ issues, managing the classroom, and handling professional development.

Short Reads (and Listens) for First-time Adjunct Instructors

The centers for teaching and learning at individual institutions often share resources for their new adjunct instructors with helpful advice that can be applied elsewhere. For example:

  • The Center for the Advancement of Teaching at Florida International University offers a short guide for contingent faculty and a well-organized resource page on teaching practices, active learning, culturally responsive teaching, academic integrity, and other topics that adjuncts will have to grapple with in their first semester.
  • The University of Denver resource Questions to Consider Before Teaching at DU serves as a useful two-page checklist for course planning.
  • Sam Houston State University shared 7 Habits of Highly Effective Adjunct Professors in its orientation material for part-time faculty. The resource is adapted from Richard Lyons’s 2004 book Success Strategies for Adjunct Faculty. It contains short pieces of advice such as beginning your course planning with the end in mind and developing synergy in your course. 

The 26 episodes of The Professional Adjunct Podcast: Instructional Strategies for Adjunct Faculty Teaching in Higher Education cover a wide array of ideas, strategies, and support specifically for adjunct faculty. Produced in 2016, the podcast features two seasoned adjunct instructors, Jim and Beth Harger, interviewing educational experts and faculty. These episodes particularly emphasized adjunct teaching in online contexts:

Domain-Specific Guides for Adjuncts

The PRSA Adjunct Resource Guide is specific to the public relations field. Along with discussions about common public relations courses and other domain-specific advice, this resource covers general topics—such as active learning, creating a syllabus, and effective lecturing—for new adjunct teachers and is applicable across disciplines. 

The APA Adjunct Faculty Resource Guide is specific to teaching psychology and offers several recommendations for adjuncts in that discipline to network and connect. Particularly useful are the “before the first day” checklists for first-time adjunct faculty teaching in person and online. 

The virtual Workshop for Adjunct Faculty from the Association of American Law Schools is designed for new adjunct teachers in the field of law. As in the previous two resources, several experienced instructors address issues of interest to first-time adjuncts in all domains, including issues such as classroom management and inclusivity.

Inspiration from Adjunct Voices and Experiences

Often, the best way to prepare for a new role is to be able to vividly imagine, which is easier when hearing the individual experiences of adjunct instructors.

The article Adjunct Teaching: For Love of the Lecture in Nature profiles several professionals working as contingent faculty and prominently features their voices and experiences.

In What We Wish We Knew Before Becoming Adjuncts, two adjunct instructors share their stories and offer advice for those just starting out. In particular, they describe the transition of moving from practitioners in their industries to teachers in the classroom.

The Teaching Behavior Together Podcast is primarily about classroom management techniques for K-12 teachers, but the episode Interested in Becoming an Adjunct Professor? is a discussion between two adjunct instructors on their experiences in becoming contingent faculty. 

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