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Many senior accounting professionals contemplate teaching at some point in their career. They often have important lessons to share in hopes that their own mistakes will not be repeated. Who in the profession hasn’t thought, “If only I had known then what I know now, I could have done it better.”

Teaching is viewed as a chance to improve the profession as well as an opportunity to pass on valuable experiences to those who are just getting started.

There is no greater opportunity to fulfill this dream than to become an adjunct instructor at a college or university. Adjuncts, also unknown as affiliates, are hired on a per term basis to teach lower-level courses or specialty classes. In a July 2, 2020, article in Inside Higher Ed., the authors reported:

"At many institutions, the last recession sped up the shift from full-time, tenure-track faculty to contingent faculty — who command lower pay and typically are provided fewer benefits or none, in the case of adjuncts teaching only a course or two. In that way, a large core of adjunct faculty helps counter fiscal pressures from rising costs, enrollment challenges, aging infrastructure, and state disinvestment."

There is a move to hire more temporary or part-time faculty to fill the gaps.

Serving as an adjunct faculty member can bring an additional revenue stream in retirement or a way to bolster your current career. However, becoming an adjunct is not always easy, and it can be a surprisingly more difficult beast to master than one might imagine. This article will guide you on the steps for landing a position and then provide five points on the reality of the position once you begin your new role.

Five tips on how to land an adjunct instructor position:

1. Community colleges are a terrific place to start your teaching career

Almost 50 percent of students are enrolled at community colleges according to a report in the Association of American Colleges and Universities. The same report notes that adjuncts play a large role in teaching staff in these institutions.

If you want to get a foot in the door as an adjunct, the community college is a great place to start. Your professional experiences are valued in this setting. Students are preparing to go directly into the workforce or are looking for a practical foundation to move on to a four-year institution. Generally, you should have earned a master’s degree or higher to obtain a position, but a bachelor’s degree may be considered if you have other credentials and exceptional experience.

An adjunct hired from the professional community has current, valuable experiences. They can mentor the community college student on how to succeed in the most fundamental skills.

Additionally, lower-level accounting courses are a good place to start as a teacher. The concepts are easy to explain and simple to master. Just because you have worked in accounting for many years, you may have forgotten all the accounting steps and methods a student is taught in the academic setting. Learning how to communicate complex information can be difficult. Learn how to present the simple materials first. A community college is a great place to start a part-time career in academia.

2. Meet with the department chair

Before you submit a packet to apply for an adjunct appointment, schedule a meeting with the chair of the department. Introduce yourself and explain why you would be a good fit for their school and accounting team. While adjuncts do not have the rights and privileges of the full-time staff, the students think of them as faculty and expectations are high. The Association of American Colleges and Universities article suggests, “Adjuncts need to know what the curricular, performance and mentoring standards are. Students should expect adjuncts to deliver content that is overseen by full-time faculty, teach the material in an interesting and professional manner, and be available for discussion outside of class.” Meeting with the department chairperson demonstrates to the college that you want to fit in with their mission and values. It is also a chance for you to determine if working at that institution is right for you as well.

3. Create a portfolio that includes documented speaking engagements

The competition to attract and keep students has never been higher. If you want to teach courses at a college or university, demonstrate you have experience as a speaker or a CPE designer. Students and administrators expect a charismatic personality and subject matter expertise in their new hires. Be ready to demonstrate you have both. Include evaluations you have received from speaking events in your application packet. Demonstrate you are already a good speaker or teacher.

4. Publish an article or two

Adjunct faculty are not required to publish, unlike full-time faculty members. However, if you are published, it is an indication of your commitment to the academic side of the profession. Accreditation requires faculty research and publications. Even if this is not required of you, it speaks to your ability to bridge the gap between academia and the accounting profession.

5. Polish your knowledge of issues like diversity and pedagogy — practice speaking the language of education

Like the military, education has a language of its own. It would behoove you to learn the terms that are relevant in today’s academic environment. There is great sensitivity to issues of diversity and micro-aggressions — those statements or phrases which can suggest intentional or unintentional indignities, including hostile, derogatory or negative attitudes toward stigmatized or culturally marginalized groups. It is not fair to suggest that students are “snowflakes” ready to melt at the smallest of insults. But they are culturally aware and will not tolerate insensitivity and inequality.

Additionally, there is tremendous focus on the methods of learning that are successful. Read articles and buy a few books on topics such as pedagogy. These issues should be the basis of your application or they will certainly come up in an interview. You may need to write a statement on your stance on diversity in the classroom. Take the boy scouts’ advice: be prepared! Expert knowledge of accounting and tax only will not necessarily make you competitive for an adjunct position.

You have been hired! Now what should you expect?

Five points on the reality of being an adjunct instructor:

1. The pay is abysmal

The irony is that you are probably at the top of your game professionally, yet you will be paid less than the lowest-level associate in your firm. PayScale.com states the average annual pay for an adjunct professor is $33,000 if you worked full time. The common range is between $1,700 - $3,500 per class, depending on the number of credit hours you are teaching. For every hour you teach, the preparation time is around two hours. That means in a semester-long, three-credit course you will teach 45 hours and prep 90 hours for $3,500. You may also spend another 45 hours answering emails from the 60 students you were assigned, and 45 more hours grading papers. Students expect, and in fact demand, that they will receive service for their tuition dollars. Ignoring their emails and homework will guarantee you are not rehired, and your reputation may take a hit. So, the bottom line is this works out to about $15 per hour.

2. You will be evaluated by senior faculty and students

Typically, the chair or a senior faculty member will come into your class and evaluate your performance. Typical areas of review will include the following:

  • Are you engaging the students?
  • Do you have mastery of the material?
  • Are you adequately prepared?
  • Are you using multiple ways of delivering instruction (multiple modalities)?
  • Are you prompt in starting and ending your classes?
  • Did you answer questions fully and succinctly?

The reviewer will write up a formal critique of your efforts.

When the course ends, the students get the chance to rate you as well. Their evaluations will go to the department chair, the dean of the college and maybe even the provost. The students can also go on sites like RateMyProfessors.com and tell the world what they think of you as a professor and as a human being. These processes can be incredibly rewarding or deeply discouraging. Be prepared for the procedures involved in your appointment.

3. There may be inconsistency when you are asked to teach

There is no commitment to hire adjuncts on a regular basis. You may get a course one semester and not be asked back again for six months. You cannot rely on anything. Of course, the better you are regarded by the students, the more likely you will be asked to return.

4. You often have no say in the curriculum for the course

Usually senior tenured faculty choose the book you will use, create tests you will give, and select the homework assignments. Your only latitude is in how you teach the content. This makes your job a bit easier since it is less for you to do, but this is often the most frustrating aspect of the job, especially as adjuncts gain experience. You are not senior faculty and cannot usually use your own judgment in these matters. It is not viewed favorably when an adjunct goes rogue and starts to redesign the course, especially in lower-level classes. Be prepared to follow rules that you did not create, even if you have 25 years of professional experience in the matter you are teaching.

5. Now for the good part: Be prepared for one of the most rewarding experiences of your life

Students today are an eclectic group who bring more complexity to the classroom than can be imagined. While they are digital natives, they may not be tech savvy. Others may be able to program a missile. A professor must never take anything for granted with these students. It is a difficult time for college-age and nontraditional learners. They face social and political unrest, climate concerns, soaring student loan debt, a volatile economy and now a pandemic which has disrupted everything. They are sensitive to the disrespect of race and gender. They value equality. However, when they encounter a truly wise instructor who is sensitive to their learning and social needs, they reciprocate tenfold. They are kind and grateful. They remember you for years. Their energy is contagious, and they help an aging professional love their profession again.

There is no greater gift a brilliant professional can give back to their community than to become an adjunct educator once they have mastered their craft. It is a way to pass on tradition and wisdom to those who follow in your footsteps. There are certain pitfalls in obtaining the position, and even more obstacles once you are in the education profession. However, it is a fulfilling and challenging adventure that deserves your consideration.

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