This post is the first in a series. Part 1 looks at doing sessional teaching for financial reasons. Part 2 considers sessional teaching to gain experience. Part 3 looks at what to do if you decide it’s not worth it. 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?
Getting the most out of your experience
If the main reason to do sessional teaching is to gain experience, you might want to be proactive in ensuring that you get the most out of it. Teaching can be very rewarding. However, the lack of compulsory training for teaching in higher education can also contribute to frustration.
If your main source of knowledge about how to do this is how you have been taught in the past, you have limited options when things aren’t working the way you’d like them to. You might also be a bit lost if you are facing a teaching situation you rarely faced as a student yourself.
Sources of support
Most universities and colleges now have some kind of teaching resource centre for faculty and teaching staff. They run short courses or workshops. And usually there are individuals you can go to with your specific questions. Find out what is on offer now even if you don’t take advantage of any of the services yet. There is no shame in asking for help before term even starts, though. An ounce of prevention…
Seek out a faculty mentor whose teaching you admire. Don’t monopolize their time, but those who are good at teaching often like to help others who value teaching. You can ask for advice before term starts, and maybe arrange to meet a couple of times during the term to talk about how things are going.
Build your own support network of other teachers. Maybe you know other graduate students who are also doing sessional teaching. Arrange to meet regularly to talk about what you are doing, what’s working, and what’s not. Don’t just focus on all the things that are going wrong. Sometimes hearing about what someone else has tried can spark ideas for your own practice.
Observe other teachers and ask other teachers to observe you. Make this about mutual support. Getting constructive feedback from another teacher can help build your confidence and give you practical ideas for improving your teaching, even as the term is in progress.
Don’t limit yourself to others in your field. I had 2 colleagues that regularly observed each others teaching and gave each other feedback. One was a chemist and the other a visual artist. Sometimes having someone who doesn’t know the content well can focus on the process and strategies you are using.
Reflect on your own practice
Take the time to think about what you are trying to achieve, the strategies you are using, and how they seem to be working out.
Experiment. And then reflect on what that experiment tells you.
Bring your researcher mind to the practice of teaching.
Why do all this?
This all takes time. And means making yourself a bit vulnerable. Why bother?
- It’ll make you a better teacher.
- It’ll make it easier for you to talk about your approach to teaching in job applications and interviews.
- It helps build your confidence.
- It helps build your network.
Like all complex tasks, teaching well takes practice. It involves a lot more than subject knowledge. Treating your job as a learning experience and taking advantage of the support available will ensure that that your teaching improves faster. If/when you get that more secure academic position, being more confident about your teaching will make it easier to make the time to do all the other things you do to confirm your appointment and advance in your career.
This post was edited 8 November 2018.