Mind Matters

An Occasional Column by Anthony D. Fredericks

Lost in the Wilderness (Part 2)

This Fall, 700,000 adjunct instructors will be hired to teach more than 16 million full and part-time undergraduate college students. Depending on the institution, 50-70% of all college instructors will be part-time. Research clearly demonstrates that the majority of those instructors will receive absolutely no guidance or training in teaching college students. They will be lost in the wilderness.

Becoming an adjunct professor is often a dream come true.  Imparting your knowledge or experiences to a class of college students is, quite often, the pinnacle of success in your profession.  Unfortunately, most adjunct instructors receive little instruction, little guidance, and little supervision in how to teach undergraduate courses or “handle” college students.  Here’s some of that “missing information”:

  1. Students will blame you.
  • They’ll blame you if they fail a course or receive an unsatisfactory grade.
  • They’ll blame you if there are too many assignments.
  • They’ll blame you if there are not enough assignments (“How can you grade us when there’s only a midterm and a final?”)
  • They’ll blame you if the room is too hot or too cold.
  • They’ll blame you if the class is too early in the morning or too late at night.
  • You’ll hear: “I have to get an A in your course or I’ll lose my scholarship.”
  • You’ll hear: “It was much better when __________ taught these courses. She was really nice!”
  • You’ll hear: “You’ve convinced me that I need to change my major.”
  1. Good teaching does not come about overnight. Kids learn to walk sometime around their first birthday (as did you and I).  In many cases, a parent or guardian will place a child at the end of the living room couch or a nearby coffee table.  The child will slap her or his hands on the furniture and take a sideways step.  Then there’s another sideways step as the child begins to progress, very slowly and very methodically down the edge of the couch or table.  Eventually the child will come to the end of the designated furniture, take one more step and…fall down.  A parent will rush over, pick the child up, and place her or him back at the starting point and the entire process will start over again.  This may take some time, but each time the child comes to the end of the couch or table and falls down there is someone there to lift her or him up, place her/him back at the beginning, and the process repeats itself.  Eventually after some time (days, weeks), the child is able to walk on her or his own and a whole new learning curve begins.

You know what?  Your first course as an adjunct professor is just like learning to walk.  Your first steps will be tentative, your progress may be slower than you would have hoped, from time to time you may think you’ve reached the end of your rope, and from time to time you will take a step beyond your limits and…(ta da) fall down.  But, there will be a friend, colleague, or fellow instructor there to pick you up, set you back on course, and encourage you to start the journey anew.  And after some time (months, years) you will become an accomplished college professor just like you became an accomplished walker when you were considerably younger.  Please remember this:  Good college teaching (and good walking) take some practice and some persistence!

3. Students will say things about you that you wouldn’t want your mother to know.  They will talk about your attire, your mannerisms, your sense of humor (or lack thereof), your hair (or lack thereof), the kind of car you drive, your Facebook or LinkedIn profile, and a thousand other things that have nothing to do with your role as a college teacher.  You will be rated and evaluated by students in ways your department chair or the administration never intended.  In fact, one of the most popular web sites used by college students to rate, evaluate and share “inside information” about college professors is www.ratemyprofessors.com.  This site allows students at almost every collegiate institution to provide comments about specific instructors and the courses they teach.  Please note: the reviews are not always flattering!

4. Expect the unexpected.  Students will ask, “I can’t be in class on Thursday.  Are you going to talk about anything important?”

Adjunct professors bring unique experiences and dynamic new perspectives to any academic department.  They also share a vitality about their subject matter – one grounded in the day-in and day-out dynamics of an occupation not often seen in dry textbooks or even drier PowerPoint presentations.  Adjuncts, by definition, have something new to share and something practical to impart.  They are, quite simply, critical to the overall education of college students.


Dr. Anthony D. Fredericks is Professor Emeritus of Education at York College of Pennsylvania. He is an award-winning author of more than 175 books, including The Adjunct Professor’s Complete Guide to Teaching College as well as five other Blue River Press titles (e.g. Writing Children’s Books).


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