The Upside of Being a Part-Time College Instructor; and How You Can Do It, Too – Campus News

By Darren Johnson
campus news

In my long life thus far, I don’t think I’ve ever read a positive article on college adjunct teaching, but, in reality, it’s not all bad – else, no one would do it.

Obviously lots of people adjunct teach; some estimate there are more part-timers than full-time professors (it depends on how you look at it; number of actual people or by number of credit hours).


Some might say that adjuncts mostly do it out of desperation – they in reality want a full-time, tenure-track position, but, those being pretty rare, they figure they will bid their time as a contingent employee making $3000-5000 per course , give or take, until their talent is finally realized by a proper faculty search committee.

Others contend it’s vanity – some professional who already earns six figures takes the gig to “give back.”

But for me, over my over two decades of adjunct teaching, being an adjunct has been exactly that: An “adjunct” to the salary I earned in my day job; and I’m good at the teaching aspect, but hate other aspects of professoring: student advising, vitriolic faculty meetings (they are always vitriolic; I’d attended some and have never seen such anger and gesticulation over a misplaced comma in a proposed course description. Frankly, it’s embarrassing for all involved.)

I also don’t fully understand “research” in the academic sense. I have an MFA – a master of fine arts; a creative degree – my whole goal is to get my work seen by the masses (and to get paid for it). But most college research is about getting into obscure journals no one reads; in fact, professors often pay to be in these journals. The research usually doesn’t matter much, big picture, if you think about it; who cares about what some professor from a typical commuter college has to say anyway? Talk about vanity.


So, while adjunct teaching pays pretty poorly and offers few if any benefits, it’s pretty straightforward. Just get in, teach, and get out. Sure, there’s prep work and grading, but, if you have a day job that already gives you benefits, teaching a couple of courses could be an “adjunct” to your ordinary salary. As well, it’s a great way to stay current in your field. If I didn’t teach journalism, for example, I’d probably not be as up-to-date in the latest trends in the field. Being an instructor nudges me to read the latest literature about the field, listen to industry podcasts. This makes me better at my day job, too. And my day job makes me a better instructor – I have real world examples from the field to tell my students. I can regularly hook them up with pertinent internships and freelance gigs to bolster their resumes. The two jobs have synergy.

And the adjunct salary is not unwelcomed. It certainly helps, especially in our Covid era where print journalism has not exactly been a windfall.

Yes, the pay should be a lot more when you compare it to what the full-timers make, even considering they advise and do research, but if you treat it as a “gig,” it pays about the same as I’d earn freelancing articles to other publications, hour by hour, and it’s good to have some variety in one’s day. Heading to a podium after having sat at a desk. When you’re “on,” the students seem to appreciate it, for the most part.

You might be wondering how to become an adjunct instructor. Most colleges require you to have an appropriate academic master’s degree, at least. If you have a professional graduate degree, you might also need work experience in the field you teach. For example, a person with a law degree probably is qualified to teach Constitutional Law and maybe even Political Science at a local commuter school.

I got my feet wet teaching non-credit, adult education courses through a continuing education program, and then started applying for adjunct gigs. You can find listings on the college websites, but it usually works better if you contact the department chair directly. Especially in this Covid era, positions open up suddenly, so it might be quicker bypassing the usual protocols.

Darren Johnson is teaching a total of four courses this semester at two colleges. Contact him at