ADVICE TO NEW COLLEGE ADJUNCTS: What I Wish I Had Known

January 14, 2015

Miann Wilson was a student in my Fall 2014 First-Year Seminar course.

Miann Wilson was a student in my Fall 2014 First-Year Seminar course.

In addition to my ongoing writing assignments, I am an adjunct professor in the Journalism and First-Year Seminar departments at Columbia College Chicago. I have taught half a dozen or so different courses over the past two decades. Each one took a couple of semesters before I felt at ease with the material and its presentation. Here I share some of the lessons I’ve learned that may smooth your own teaching semester. And, please share your advice as well!

* First-day introductions. Yes, it’s hokey, but do it anyway. I used to skip this exercise in the mistaken belief that they all knew each other, but they don’t. Commuter students in particular have a difficult time making campus connections.

If you simply tell students to introduce themselves, they will rotely give their names, hometowns and majors. Period. Ask them to share the best day of their lives or to reveal something surprising about themselves. I often ask my First-Year Seminar students whether rabbits should be allowed to vote.

(The question is not totally bizarre: Later in the semester, we discuss the rights and responsibilities of humans versus non-humans, and, ultimately, in the Mary Shelley novel “Frankenstein,” who is guilty of the crimes–the creature or his creator?)

* Repeat, repeat, repeat. When I was a younger teacher, I thought saying something once was sufficient. It isn’t. I repeat assignments, summarize lectures, review student work in the classroom for good and bad examples (anonymously, of course). I comb celebrity and trending news to reiterate a point or concept. Sometimes I feel as though I am driving myself to catatonia, but I also get better papers and fewer missed deadlines.

* Plan for syllabus mishaps. No matter how hard you prepare or how much confirmation you do, on some days plans go awry. Maybe your speaker cancels at the last minute. Maybe the DVD you intended to show won’t play. Always have an extra lesson plan or activity ready (handouts photocopied, presentation loaded onto a flash drive, a local field trip figured out, etc.) just in case. You will thank me for this one.

* Relax. It’s scary to face new students at the beginning of the semester. Remember, they are afraid of you as well. They also trust you. You are their expert. It’s okay if you show them nine ways to properly use a comma but forget the tenth one. They’ll figure it out, or they won’t need it to live satisfactory lives. And after a few class sessions, you’ll be able to tell apart Kristin, Christy and Chrissi.

* You are not entertaining. Year ago, before I came to Columbia, I had a story assignment to interview graduate students about their teaching experiences. One of them said: “From the deadpan faces in my classroom, I learned that I am not nearly as funny as I think I am.” You aren’t, either. But the students can be funnier than you ever imagined. Enjoy the laughs.

One Response to “ADVICE TO NEW COLLEGE ADJUNCTS: What I Wish I Had Known”

  1. Cindy Hoyle Says:

    Another great article Pam. Good insight!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s