Success Strategies for Adjunct Faculty

by Richard E. Lyons


Like so many institutions, Gettysburg College relies on a certain number of adjuncts to fulfill curricular goals and meet student demand.  Because adjuncts have become a way of life on virtually every campus—there are currently approximately a half million individuals teaching part time in North American colleges and universities--a number of helpful books specifically devoted to adjuncts and their concerns have recently appeared.  One such book is Richard E. Lyons' Success Strategies for Adjunct Faculty.  At the outset Lyons notes that adjuncts fall into four general categories:  (1) aspiring academics (2) freelancers (3) specialists, experts or professionals and (4) career enders.  More important, he points out that a number of recent studies have found that adjuncts' quality of instruction equals that of their full-time colleagues.  To maintain this quality, Lyons enumerates, what he calls, seven habits of highly effective adjunct professors, no matter their category.  First, they are proactive and anticipate challenges and initiate meaningful contact with their students.  Second, they build their courses carefully around the result they hope to achieve by the end of the semester.  Third, successful adjuncts are organized and disciplined about staying on task.  Fourth, they project a win/win attitude focused on mutual success. Fifth, effective teachers understand their students before expecting students to understand them. Sixth, they build their courses on synergy, or what may be called creative collaboration between teacher and students.  Finally, successful adjuncts take the time to change teaching techniques when they see that the current strategy is not working.


Needless to say, these seven habits are useful to tenured professors as well. Indeed, chapter headings include everything from "Strategic Course Planning" to "Bringing Your Course to an Effective Conclusion" and "Evaluating the Effectiveness of Your Teaching."  However, of particular interest to adjuncts is the final chapter, "Managing Your Adjunct Career," which answers such questions as:  How can you keep your teaching focused?   What are some specific steps you can take to set yourself apart from others?  How can you effectively leverage your teaching success for greater rewards?  How do you define success within the adjunct teaching environment?   Among the advice that Lyons presents in the last chapter, one example is particularly relevant for the Johnson Center for Creative Teaching and Learning.  He points out that a growing number of colleges and universities have initiated some type of pedagogical support on campus and adjuncts would be wise to make use of its resources.  "Most teaching and learning centers offer classes and workshops for professors that run the gamut from informal, brown-bag lunch sessions on a variety of topics to week-long, or even semester-long, sessions on specific topics related to instruction.  You may be the only adjunct professor in attendance, but remember, you will always learn something of value to your teaching.  Although it requires an investment of time to participate in these activities, there will always be a return in new skills and new colleagues" (emphasis added).  Lyons' advice does not stop there.  He suggests that after attending one or more of these events, the adjunct should offer to present information to other adjuncts.  She or he should ask a teaching center representative to observe a class and the adjunct should also take advantage of the  center's professional library.  As he says, "your use of the services of your teaching/learning center will be repaid many times over, both because you can become more efficient at what you do and because your impact on students is multiplied as you become more effective."   Lyons enumerates additional suggestions that are pertinent to the Johnson Center as well when he suggests the development of mutually beneficial mentoring relationships, a collection of teaching and learning resources as well as technological skills.  Lyons hopes to provide adjuncts with a renewed sense of themselves as significant contributors to student learning and a reinvigorated sense of the possibilities for truly excellent teaching. Certainly this would be the goal here at Gettysburg College.      


Review by Elizabeth Richardson Viti, Director and Professor of French

This book is available in the JCCTL library.