Getting Caught in the Adjunct Trap

I have been teaching at the university level for 7 years. Writing that out makes me feel so old! When I told people I taught at the university when I was 23 they were super impressed, now, I get an 'oh, that's cool.' Every year I swear it seems like the students get younger and younger. It always reminds me of that line from Dazed and Confused, I keep getting older but they stay the same age.

Over the last 7 years I've taught some amazing courses; General Psychology, Human Growth & Development, Drugs & Behavior, Experimental Psychology, Careers in Psychology and Research Methods. I love teaching. I love that it forces me to learn more. I love helping students do their best and achieve their academic and professional goals. Last year I did a video on what it's like to be an adjunct.

I currently teach at two universities and while I'm on Spring Break from one I've been dealing with the other regarding my teaching schedule for the Summer and Fall terms. For those outside the world of academia here's a short background on adjuncts. They were originally hired on by universities to teach one, maybe two, classes in the areas they actually worked in. They brought 'real world' insight and taught only a fraction of the overall courses offered.

Now, adjuncts teach the majority of classes in many departments. As a full-time instructor you typically teach 4-5 classes, are expected to be a bit more invested in college activities (serve on committees, etc.) and you get benefits. As an adjunct you usually don't have any obligations outside of showing up for your class, get zero benefits, and usually don't get paid for office hours. When I teach a class for the first time I may only spend 3 hours a week in the classroom, but at least that same amount preparing the lecture, grading papers and developing exams. Also, the pay is abysmal. If I taught 5 classes a term 3x a year (which has never, ever happened) I'd still be making about 60% of what a full-time instructor does, putting in the same amount of hours a week, and getting NO benefits.


A few years ago I found myself caught in the adjunct trap. The schools I work at put their schedules for the term together a few weeks before they start. So, three times a year (Spring, Summer, Fall) I'd have no idea how many classes I'd be teaching, when, or on what campus. I didn't know if I'd be making $300 a month or $2000. To say I was stressed is a significant understatement. After the first few years I built up a reputation as being a pretty good instructor so I could always count on at least two classes in the Spring/Fall (the Summer terms I'm still lucky if I get that many.) I worked full-time as an academic adviser for 3 years, then at the hospital last year for a few months, to supplement my income.

The problem with never knowing what your schedule will be like is that it makes it very, very difficult to find employment to supplement that income. This semester I teach 2 online classes and 2 in person so I'm only on campus Mondays and Wednesday afternoons. In the Fall, I will be on 3 different campuses Mon-Thurs from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and it looks like I may be teaching two nights a week. Since I love what I do so much I'm absolutely okay with that, but the inability to have stable income and inability to maintain part/full-time employment in conjunction with teaching always weighs on my mind.

Thank goodness this blog has opened up the opportunity for me to make additional money while working during my off hours. When I say I make money from the blog most of my income actually comes from freelance writing work I get because of my blog, so not actually money from ad space or sponsored posts (although I do make money from both of those venues.) When I first started this blog almost 2 years ago I would put about 10-20 hours a week into it and I didn't make a dime the first 6 months. That's a minimum of 240 hours invested before any financial return! I didn't get into it for the money though so I would still be doing it now even if I still getting my 20 page views a day.

I was talking with my parents recently about how great it feels to not have to worry about if I'll be able to pay rent anymore. Not that I still don't get a little anxious at the end of each term when I'm emailing department heads and trying to casually bring up, "So...any idea what I may be teaching next semester?" But, thanks to writing and this site, my stress over the issue has been significantly reduced. I'm working on opening up my etsy shop again mostly because I've been crafting up a storm lately and love having a 'justification' for going out and buying tons of art supplies. It's also another nice way to pad my monthly income a bit.

If you are thinking about teaching at the university level chances are you will start off as an adjunct. If you haven't taught before and are trying to break into it I'd suggest emailing the department head and letting them know that you are interested. While I 100% encourage those who would like to teach to do it I also wish someone had told me some of this 'behind the scenes' info before I got started in the field. It may have saved me a bit of stress (probably not though since I'm a chronic worrier!)


Have you ever been stressed over job instability?

What do you do for extra sources of income?