Being an adjunct or part-time instructor is hard. But being a first-year adjunct (during a pandemic, nonetheless!) is a whole other level of hard. Teacher burnout is a real thing and having been a new instructor myself, I know that we all need support and advice. I’ve compiled a list of some important pieces of wisdom I’ve picked up along the way and want to share them with you. I hope you find them helpful as you navigate your early years of teaching!
Teacher Tip 1: Find a Mentor
If your university does not assign you a mentor to help you acclimate to your school, courses, and building, start talking to your colleagues and get to know them. You will find someone, or be introduced to someone, who will be a good mentor or sounding board for you. You want this person to be solution-oriented and someone who contributes productive energy into a space, rather than depletes it. This is important because this person (or people) will be who you go to for help, advice, etc. Choose wisely.
Teacher Tip 2: Keep a Rolodex
Do you remember what a Rolodex is? If not, it’s an old-school analog way to organize your contacts. As you get to know your colleagues better, keep notes on who they mention or introduce to you. These people all have skill sets and qualities that you may find helpful at one point. Consider it a directory of sorts. This will make it easy and simple for you to find someone who is really knowledgeable about the course management system your university uses, or how to create functions in Excel, etc. Being an adjunct or part-time instructor can be overwhelming, yet isolating at the same time, so it’s important to make sure you connect with those around you and know who to go to for help.
Teacher Tip 3: Teacher Self-Care
This is probably the most important advice I can give to any teacher, whether they are new or a veteran: Take care of yourself. This goes beyond a glass of wine and a bubble bath. While those things are nice and help us relax, they aren’t nearly enough. Teacher self-care will look different for everyone, but the strategies below are pretty universal and can help everyone.
Teacher Tip 4: Boundaries. Have them. Enforce them.
It’s important to identify what your bottom lines are, your non-negotiables. How much (or little) of your own personal time will you devote to replying to emails, lesson planning, marking, even thinking about teaching? It’s not realistic to expect to spend absolutely none of your own time on these things, that can be a whole other discussion about the structure of the educational system, but it is imperative for you to set boundaries for yourself and for others. If you don’t set boundaries (and enforce them) for yourself, no one else will.
Teacher Tip 5: Email
Replying to emails outside of your office hours or contract hours is completely acceptable if you choose to do so, but it also communicates “I’m available whenever.” I know the desire to clean out your email inbox, which is why “Schedule send” is your new best friend. Compose or reply to an email like you normally would, only schedule it to be sent during your regular work hours. This gets it off your plate or to-do list, and also says to the recipient, “I am available to communicate during my work hours only.”
Also helpful is the “Vacation response”. For example, during a scheduled vacation, Spring, Winter, or Summer Break, consider leaving an automated response: “Hi! Thank you for your email. It is now Spring Break and I will reply to your email once the semester has resumed. Take care!” This communicates that you received their message and do have a plan for when you will respond, and reassures the sender that you are not ignoring them.
Finally, include in your course outline something like the following:
- Please include a specific request. Do not simply say “hey I missed last class can you let me know if I missed anything?” (this one drives me crazy, and I would really love to respond with: “no we didn’t do anything so no worries”!)
- I will reply to your email within 24 to 48 hours Monday to Friday during traditional working hours (9AM to 5PM). I will not respond to emails on Sunday.
- I will not offer any instruction via email. Instructions about due dates, material, and assignments take place in class (GOOGLE MEET), and I am happy to meet to discuss questions during office hours or scheduled meetings.
Stay tuned for part two of HIGH SCHOOL, COLLEGE, AND FIRST-YEAR UNIVERSITY TEACHER TIPS!
If you’re looking for more information or are interested in the customized coaching I offer, please visit my webpage here: 1:1 COACHING
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