Here are some steps you can take to enhance your teaching experience and empower you with the knowledge you need to succeed as a part-time faculty member.
Find out the basics
Whether or not you receive an actual orientation before you start teaching, make it your business to find out the basics you will need to do your job. Some questions to ask the person who hired you:
- Will you have an office or individual work space, or will you share an office area with other adjuncts?
- Will you have access to a computer and printer?
- Where is your mailbox located?
- Do you need to fill out time sheets?
- Are you expected to have office hours?
- Where should you meet with students (if don’t have an office)?
- Will you receive keys to the department? (This is especially important if you are teaching evening or weekend classes.)
- Where and how can you make copies? If you have access to the department copy machine, what is the access code and how many copies per month are you allotted?
- If the college has a print center, can you expect copies on the spot? If not, how much advance notice is needed?
- Will you be guaranteed a SMART classroom every semester? If not, are laptops and projectors available? What is the procedure for getting equipment into the classroom?
- Does the college use web grading and web attendance? If so, how do they work?
- What is your college email address, and how do you access it off-site?
Learn how to use Blackboard
All CUNY colleges use Blackboard, an online course management system. It is an excellent, if not essential, tool for communicating with students. You can use it to post course materials such as the syllabus, PowerPoint presentations, assignments, and links to external websites. Blackboard can even export (and grade!) weekly quizzes from textbook publishers that you can make available during specified time periods.
In addition, Blackboard offers a grade center that makes computing grades a cinch. Students can access the grading center to check their class average and their grades on individual assignments. If you don’t know how to use Blackboard, find out if your college offers training (most do) and sign up for a session. You won’t regret it. If your college does not offer Blackboard training, the online manual is straightforward and user-friendly, even for a non-techie.
Learn as much as possible about the course you will be teaching
Don’t assume that you can use the same text, syllabus, or other course materials you may have used when teaching the same course in the past. The courses in the Justice Academy were carefully designed to reflect their equivalencies at John Jay. The extent to which the course content, assignments, and grading at the community colleges resemble their counterpart courses at John Jay increases student success upon transfer.
Find out which text to assign and ask for syllabi from previous sections taught by full-time faculty. Make sure your learning objectives and assignments mirror those as closely as possible.
Contact the publisher of the textbook for a treasure trove of resources, including chapter outlines, lesson plans, PowerPoints, and test banks. Some publishers have software that you can use to create quizzes for each chapter from a test bank of questions, which you can then import directly into Blackboard. Be sure to ask the publisher for any media-related items such as news clips or videos that you can show in class. Pearson has an excellent criminal justice media library, organized by topic, which includes links to documentaries on Frontline, for example, and five-minute news clips.
Familiarize yourself with institutional policies and procedures
You will probably include many of these items in your syllabus as well. Some basics you need to know include the following:
- how to report student violations of academic integrity (cheating or plagiarizing)
- attendance requirements
- withdrawing and adding classes
- grading scales
- where to send students who need help (academic advisement or personal counseling).
Some colleges have a faculty handbook that contains this information. If not, the college catalog is the next best resource. Take some time to familiarize yourself with the college website and where important resources, such as the academic calendar, class schedule, and college catalog, are located.
Find out how you will be evaluated as a part-time faculty member
Will you be observed every semester, or once a year? Will your evaluation be based solely on student evaluations, or will full-time faculty observe you as well? Consider requesting a copy of the student and/or faculty evaluation form that will be used, so you know in advance the questions that will be asked to evaluate your teaching.
Familiarize yourself with resources available to students
Students will likely not know whether you’re an adjunct or full-time faculty member (or the difference between the two). Since you are the instructor, they will expect you to know basic things, such as whether the college has a writing center, where the advisement office is, and where to go for technical support if, say, they can’t access Blackboard or their student email. Spend some time on the college website familiarizing yourself with the range and location of college services. If the college has a Single Stop, you can refer most students there.
Seek out teaching resources on campus
Most CUNY colleges have Centers for Teaching and Learning, which offer resources and workshops where you can learn new teaching techniques from experts. If time permits, try to attend one of these workshops. You might also consider asking a faculty member who teaches the same course if you can observe a class. Ask the department chairperson for a recommendation.
Communicate with the chairperson (or whoever hired you) about your availability for future semesters, teaching preferences (days or evenings, regular or interim semesters) and interest in teaching additional classes, if any. Don’t wait for the chairperson to reach out to you. A short email well in advance of the following semester outlining the classes, days, and times you’re available to teach signals your enthusiasm and will help you secure the schedule you want. Moreover, don’t assume that just because you don’t see Saturday classes on the schedule that they’re not offered. The same goes for classes that meet once a week. I had an adjunct once propose a Saturday policing course at nine in the morning, because that was the only time he could teach it. To my surprise, it has filled every semester.
Consider going above and beyond classroom teaching
Experiential assignments make content come alive. You might want to take your students to court to observe an hour of a felony trial, or maybe to Rikers Island or one of the state prisons right here in New York City, such as Queensborough Correctional Facility in Long Island City or Bayview Correctional Facility, a state prison for women in the Chelsea area of Manhattan. Extra credit is often a good incentive for student participation in out-of-class activities. If you’re having a guest speaker, tell the program coordinator. He/she may way to find a larger space and open it up to other criminal justice classes. One of my best adjuncts, who runs a program for parolees, told me she was having three of her clients speak to her class about serving time in prison and reintegrating back into society. I capitalized on her initiative by reserving a room for a larger audience; what began as a one-class presentation turned into a panel on prisoner reentry attended by over a hundred students.
Search the web for information related to teaching
An excellent website is the University of Kansas Center for Teaching Excellence, which links to teaching centers throughout the country that are full of resources related to teaching, such as classroom management, assessment, grading rubrics, course planning, active learning, online teaching, and more. Other resources include Bianco-Mathis and Chalofsky’s (1996) The Adjunct Faculty Handbook, Grieve’s (1995) A Handbook for Adjunct/Part-time Faculty and Teachers of Adults, and Lyons’ (2004) Success Strategies for Adjunct Faculty.
by Jennifer Wynn