This post is the first in a series. Part 2 considers sessional teaching to gain experience. Part 3 looks at what to do if you decide it’s not worth it. Part 4 helps you approach sessional teaching strategically so you get the skills you need. The introduction is the same so you can start anywhere.
As term time approaches, those of you who don’t have tenure track or tenured positions in universities may be considering various options for sessional teaching (sometimes called adjunct professors, or part-time lecturers). I’m not talking about Teaching Assistantships, but rather opportunities to teach one or more courses, usually for a flat fee (albeit paid biweekly or semi-monthly or whatever). I’m also not really talking about limited term full-time appointments (teaching only or teaching & research) though some of the same considerations may apply.
Sometimes these offers come in very late in the game (even the week before term starts). We all know that the pay is low for the work involved, and that it will not reflect your experience or training. It is never a good idea to act as if you are desperate. So what kinds of things might you consider before taking that sessional teaching?
Today we consider the most obvious answer: You need the money
We all need money. To pay the rent. Buy food. Support our book buying habits. Etc. On its own, this isn’t a very good reason to take the job, though. There are lots of jobs you could do for the money.
How much money is it, really?
Consider the number of hours you are going to spend preparing, grading, having office hours, and otherwise engaged in work related to the course you will teach in addition to the time spent in an actual classroom.
Divide the total salary by that number to really get a sense of what this job pays.
When you are comparing the amount of money you can earn doing this to what you could earn doing other things, it is this number you want to look at.
What are the costs?
Sessional teaching requires the same kind of mental effort that your research does. You have limited capacity for this kind of mental and intellectual work.
Consider seriously the likely impact of teaching a course on the quality of time available to finish your dissertation, write articles for publication, or whatever else you want to do to advance your career so that you aren’t doing sessional teaching to make rent for the rest of your life. Then look at the other options for earning a similar amount of money, and consider how much time and intellectual capacity you’d have if you did that instead.
Have you taught this particular course before? Is it in an area you know a lot about? How are your answers going to affect your estimates of preparation time?
Does teaching, or aspects of teaching, make you anxious? Does dealing with those anxieties take energy away from other things?
How do you transition from activities like teaching, that involve interacting with others, to activities like reading, writing and thinking? Have you allowed for those transitions in your estimates of how much time you will need to devote to this class?
There may still be good reasons to do this work.
Even if you do this calculation and decide that the money isn’t that great, you might still want to say “yes”.
Right now, it is important to recognize that in one sense this is just another job. It isn’t very well paid. And it might impact negatively on other things that are important to you and to your future career.
In future posts, we’ll look at some of those benefits.
This post was edited 8 November 2018.