A recent post at the Chronicle of Higher Education looked at the link between faculty work conditions and student success—especially as it pertains to adjunct faculty.
‘It’s critical for them to have better working conditions because the success of their students depends on it,’ said Adrianna Kezar, an associate professor of higher education at the University of Southern California. According to her research, Ms. Kezar said, non-tenure-track faculty members—who make up the majority of the people who teach in college classrooms—could ‘often enhance student learning’ if institutions would step up their efforts to alleviate the many things that hamper their ability to do so. Among them are last-minute class assignments; few, if any, opportunities to give input on the curricula, textbooks, or syllabi; and a lack of mentors. Ms. Kezar’s research puts a different spin on the lens through which adjuncts and their performance in the classroom have typically been examined.
Over the years I’ve worked with a lot of adjunct faculty who have felt set adrift when they first come to the UO. The last minute assignment to a class they have never taught before is a difficult adjustment. Many new adjuncts do not get even a minimal orientation to the department (Where do I find basic teaching supplies? What is Blackboard and how do I use it? When will I have an office space?). Adjuncts coming from various professions have loads of practical experience and little to no teaching experience. The teaching help they receive from the department is often a syllabus from a previously-taught class, a textbook which may or may not suit what and how they wish to teach the assigned course, and an offhanded “Good luck.”
The success or lack of success for any teacher in a department has repercussions and can damage or reinforce a department’s reputation. We want to welcome, value and respect each student that enters our classrooms. Let’s do the same for all those supporting our teaching mission.
Your department may be in great shape regarding this issue. If not, your current adjuncts could probably provide some guidance for what the department might do to make new teachers feel welcomed and valued. The Teaching Effectiveness Program can certainly help with teacher training and consultations to help newcomers get off to a good start and have a successful teaching term.