This post will focus on effective prep because the more effective (and fast) your prep, the more you’re proportionately paid when you post final grades. Even for experienced instructors, the idea of planning a new course or revamping a familiar course is so daunting it’s something we resolve to do during the summer–that magical time when we hope to recover from countless hours grading endless papers–because we know it takes hours and weeks of planning. Geez, sometimes it takes hours of researching for materials before we even begin planning an weekly calendar. And, sadly, adjuncts are expected to do the same thing but with little notice and laughably low pay.
And when I say little notice, I mean 3 days; and when I say little pay, I mean $10-12.5 an hour instead of $18-20–depending on how much time you spending prepping and grading. Read more about that here.
Most instructors plan materials for a new course 1 of 2 ways:
- Get a calendar in place and prep as you go.
- Get a calendar in place and prep the week(s) leading up to the semester.
Either way, it adds up to hundreds of hours planning, researching, and building lesson materials outside of the class time you’re actually paid for. It wasn’t until I was a full-timer and felt the difference that I realized (gulp, prepare yourself) every minute of prep diluted my actual bottom-line profit at the end of the semester. If you really really want to know the sad reality of just how little adjuncts makes once all their planning, prepping, teaching and grading is over, click here, but you’ve been warned.
As adjunct instructors, the fact that each hour spent planning and prepping for a class doesn’t usually come as a surprise, but how quickly it can lead to teaching a class for near-minimum wage equivalence is something most of us aren’t quick to put together–hey, it’s enough work to plan and prep for a new course at a new institution and then be overloaded with essay grading responsibilities!
Now I know the vast majority of English instructors are not teaching for the pay–and if you are, you might as well get the memo today, even if it’s a bit late: teachers don’t roll in dough, even full-time community college professors. I know a few money-makers, but they’ve been teaching forever (like, before there were computer labs and email). But definitely anyone hired recently won’t be sipping Cristal anytime for the next 15-20 years.
That said, most adjuncts fall into one or two of these options:
- A newbie instructor sinking 40+ hour weeks into your prep.
- Juggling multiple courses and multiple institutions.
- Traveling over an hour to teach.
- Teaching and working part-time at Starbucks
- Teaching while trying to make time for new spouses, babies, toddlers, or over-committed teens.
Since the majority of English adjuncts are juggling 2-3 of those items at a time, spending a full 40 hours a week to prep one class is not an option. And it will leave you with no profit margin. As a new adjunct I didn’t realize how each hour I spent prepping was sucking away the stipend I was paid for teaching the course. Honestly, I spent no less than 80 hours building my first course syllabus, calendar, and a couple preliminary PowerPoints; the total time I spend on weekly lesson plans, assignment sheets, and eventual rubric development (something I didn’t master until out of necessity as a full-timer) absolutely left me with near minimum wage per hour by the time my stipend was complete.
Most professionals are not expected to prepare work materials outside of work time. Prep is an adjunct’s double-edged sword: it’s necessary but dilutes your profit.
Here’s a checklist of 5 things you can do to maximize your adjunct stipend by spending less time prepping course materials:
Prep Efficiency Checklist:
- Use Institution-specific free resources. Many departments offer resources for their adjuncts. Some places provide teaching resources, but many have email or Blackboard/Canvas LMS instructionals, syllabus best practices, office hour expectations and professional development opportunities. Scour the institution’s English department or do a full site search for resources. Look for language such as “English Resources” or “Instructor Resources” or “Adjunct Materials.” Here’s one example, here’s another example, and here’s a third that show the range of possible things you could find.
- Use Internet-based free resources. A couple universities such as Purdue’s Online Writing Lab are well known for their MLA and essay writing resources. But you can also go straight to the source: MLA Style Center “Teaching Resources” page provides a collection of examples and teaching materials. Here’s our download list of free Open-Source Instructional Materials.
- Ask for sample or example syllabus documents from your dean/department head. If you aren’t provided these or don’t feel comfortable asking, we offer a Syllabus Template so you can copy/paste your contact info, course specifics, and your institution’s student services info without spending time developing new course or grading policy. Then copy/paste your institution’s English department “Course Objectives” or “Expected Learning Outcomes” for your course. Our Syllabus and Course Calendar Development post explains more about this.
- Build your assignments calendar before looking at the required textbook. The textbook is a resource and not the mode of delivery, which means you first need a timeline of essay assignments and essay-related lessons (citation, audience, avoiding problematic language, finding credible sources, etc.), and then tailor your reading assignments around those plans. If you read Pre-Curriculum Development post, we have the same resources available for calendar development: customizable template (this one usually takes 1.5-2 hours to customize, but still, that saves A LOT of prep time).
- Use grading rubrics. You wouldn’t venture into the zombie apocalypse without a crossbo
w, so why would you assign a formal essay assignment without a rubric. I’m even a huge proponent of using rubrics for process work (we have an online class version here), peer review, and reading journals/response. Rubrics take time to build–here’s our Timesaving Power of Rubrics detailed post if you’re interested–but they are reusable and cut down on assignment development, inform instructional materials such as PowerPoints, make grading much much (much much much much) easier and faster, and make it easier to tell a student how and why he/she failed the essay assignment because now you can just check a box. That last part is even better if you handed out the rubric when you handed out the assignment.
What’s your bottom-line profit margin? In all honesty, it’ll never be great while adjunct teaching, but this efficiency checklist and some of our resources can shave off roughly the equivalent of a 40-work week worth of prep over the course of a semester, which is pretty awesome.
To help you get a feel for how our course materials can help you get more done in less time, we offer a free download of any individual course material of your choice. Sign up here to take advantage of this opportunity.
[grwebform url=”https://app.getresponse.com/view_webform_v2.js?u=hXCsX&webforms_id=17774302″ css=”on” center=”off” center_margin=”200″/]