Advice

Selling Your Skills

July 08, 2004

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Adjuncts are some of the best teachers on any college campus. We get to be excellent teachers because we've had so much practice doing it, and our jobs depend on our doing it well.

So if you've had steady employment as an adjunct, pat yourself on the back as a good teacher. And then go sell your teaching skills outside the university at the many places that will pay for good teachers.

For my purposes here, I'm going to lump all of those places together under the rubric of continuing-education programs. Some are run by colleges and universities, some are independent, local institutes, some are affiliated with museums or centers of various kinds. Others are large, regional organizations that offer classes to the general public.

Whatever their stripe, such programs seem to appeal to the many aging baby boomers who, as they slide into retirement, find themselves with extra time on their hands. They're bored and they want enrichment. But they don't want another degree and they don't want to take tests or do lots of required reading. They want to take classes in which a smart, experienced, and entertaining lecturer presents material to them on a topic they find interesting and important.

Then there are the middle-aged professionals, a decade or two out of college who have arrived at their career destinations, and miss taking classes. They've made partner, established a steady practice, built up the business, gotten the kids more or less raised. They don't have a whole lot of time, but they've got a night or two free every week.

So they sign up for a class on a topic totally opposite from what they spend their life doing. They want someone -- you guessed it -- smart, experienced, and entertaining to present material to them on a subject they always found interesting but never found the time to study.

That is where you come in. As a seasoned adjunct, you are a smart, experienced, and entertaining lecturer. While your college dean or administrator may treat you like a necessary evil in traditional higher education, directors of continuing-ed programs eagerly look for people just like you to teach interesting classes that their "target" market will buy.

First you must get the lay of the continuing-education land in your area.

Look on the notice boards of bookstores, libraries, and coffee shops -- places where continuing-ed programs often advertise. Ask around at your university. Chances are the full-timers you know at your college have been approached to teach at the programs and may be able to offer you contacts. Check out all the local colleges and universities, as well as museums, galleries, and other such organizations, to see which ones have continuing-education schools.

Then apply. Find out what they want, and whether you can meet their needs. Regardless of your area of specialization, the task here is to concoct courses aimed at a general audience. The people who take these classes are what I call "the PBS crowd." They're generally smart and inquiring; they may or may not have a little bit of background in the subject of the course. Mostly, they want to hear good lectures, but sometimes they're willing to do some reading.

It's not that difficult to land a continuing-ed gig, as an adjunct friend of mine discovered a few years ago. We were both teaching writing courses at a public university here in Houston and she was having trouble making ends meet financially. I suggested she look into continuing-ed teaching. She contacted a continuing-ed institute affiliated with a local private university.

Within days, she had a six-week gig teaching the novels of Jane Austen -- one novel a week. She had written her dissertation on Austen, and had been frustrated by how rarely she got to teach about Austen as an adjunct. She taught the continuing-ed course and loved it. The people were fun and interested in her topic, she didn't have to grade papers or exams, she got to talk about what she loved, and she didn't have to do mountains of preparation.

I have supplemented my adjunct income for years by teaching continuing-ed classes. I currently teach at two such institutes, and have been at one of them for nearly seven years. I have taught classes on world religions, religion and literature, religion and art, philosophy of religion, religion and politics. Any course that begins with "religion and," I've taught.

Moreover, I've adapted most of those classes, which I developed for a specific audience (usually older women who want to take daytime classes) and "sold" them to another institute with a different audience (people who want evening classes).

As an adjunct, you get to break out of the grind of teaching the same courses over and over to the same basic students. You can develop new courses for the continuing-ed crowd, or teach the same basic material you always teach, but to a different audience.

Best of all, the pay is usually better than what you can make as an adjunct, which, of course, isn't saying much, since it's not hard to match our paltry adjunct pay.

The courses usually meet once a week for anywhere from 4 to 12 weeks. A typical class session lasts two hours, with a break in the middle. In my area of Texas, teachers can earn about $150 to $250 for each class session of a continuing-ed course. Say you teach a four-week course that meets once a week, you can make between $600 and $1,000. And that's without having to grade any papers, hold office hours, or do much advance preparation.

For a 12-week course, you could make $1,800 to $3,000, comparable to what you might earn for a traditional semester-long course at a college, where you will have to hold office hours and grade loads of papers for about the same money.

An additional perk, at least for me, is that the class participants aren't the only ones getting enriched. I am, too. The students in continuing-ed classes are interesting, accomplished people. They seem to bring out dimensions of my work that don't emerge as often in a classroom filled with traditional college-age students.

I love my young university students -- don't get me wrong -- but it's also nice to teach people at different stages of life.

Check it out for yourself. Continuing-ed teaching can plug some holes in your cash flow. And it can plug some holes in your teaching life.

Jill Carroll, an adjunct lecturer in Texas, writes a column on adjunct life and work. She is author of a self-published book, How to Survive as an Adjunct Lecturer: An Entrepreneurial Strategy Manual. Her Web site is http://www.adjunctsolutions.com and her e-mail address is adjunctsolutions@aol.com