Marketing Mondays: Adjunct Teaching

Glenn, a Marketing Mondays reader, writes: "I have a BA in Art and an MA in Education and am trying to figure out how to land an art adjunct teaching position. Do you have any specific advice, given your background and experience, on how I might be able to go about this?"
I’m not the best person to address this issue because whatever teaching I’ve done in the in the past few years has come through referral or invitation. That doesn’t stop me from having an opinion, of course, but consider my comments just the beginning of a larger dialog that depends on you. If you teach, or if you’re an administrator, please weigh in.

Filling a Need
Frankly, I think the best way to get an adjunct job is to know someone who’s already teaching at the institution you want to teach at. You do have to have a resume with the requisite degrees and some teaching experience, and it helps if you have some visibility in your field. But while full-time positions or fixed-period appointments typically require search committees and many hours of meetings to consider hundreds of resumes and then, winnowed, dozens of interviews, the adjunct passes through far fewer hoops. If you’re referred, if you’re networking and your name comes up, you may well be invited to teach a course—or at least invited to submit a resume for consideration. Do a good job and you’re likely to be invited back.

Getting on the Institution’s Radar
. If you’re looking to teach and you don’t know anyone in the institution, put the department head on your postcard mailing list. Don’t ask for anything; you just want the person to know you’re a serious working artist. Regular postcards will keep administrators and department heads apprised without any kind conversation
. Success breeds success: If you’ve just gotten a well-placed review or some regional recognition, that might be the time to drop a note saying that you’d love to share your insights (on getting a grant, receiving a commission, whatever) with the students. There are visiting artist programs for which you might be perfect, and for which you would get paid
. Let the department head know you’re interested in serving in an end-of-semester crit. Not all institutions maintain such programs, but many do depend on artists outside the institution to offer a fresh perspective on students’ work. There’s usually an honorarium, and of course the opportunity to distinguish yourself with insightful and helpful comments. ( Don't grandstand.)

. It makes a difference whether the institution is private or public. Private institutions answer to their board of directors, of course, but publicly funded institutions must hew to specific criteria for each and every job. If you don’t have the appropriate degrees and experience, you’re likely to be passed over for someone who does
. There are no guarantees with adjunct teaching. If your course doesn’t attract a requisite number of students, it will not run. If you count on adjunct teaching to pay your bills, you may find yourself unhappily unemployed for the semester
. Some institutions cover adjuncts’ wage schedule in their union, some don’t. Either way, you won't get rich on an adjunct’s salary
. Even though you're adjunct, you may be asked (or required) to attend faculty meetings or help with registration
. New York City is a different beast when it comes to adjunct teaching. There are, oh, 17 million artists for every teaching job. In my observation, the pay is poor and the artists are not treated well. I'd rather eat dirt than work here

Continuing Ed Programs in Degree-Granting Institutions
Many degree-granting institutions have continuing studies programs. Typically they’re run by a different department.
. The good news: It’s usually easier to get a teaching job here. For one thing, while the regular academic departments have specific course requirements, the continuing ed administrator is usually looking for new, fresh and unusual courses to attract new students and to bring back students who have already taken other courses. Come up with some good ideas and proposals, and you’ll probably get a call
. The bad news: Typically the salaries are not up to even adjunct level. And since continuing ed must turn a profit, you’ve got to pack your classes. Also, you don’t think about this until you’re hit with it, but every institution has its own administration, protocols, paperwork. And equipment. You may have mastered the digital projector in one institution, for instance, only to find that you’ve got to learn a whole different system in another
. Once you’re in, however, you can propose related courses, or explore your interests with other, different offerings. Popular teachers with a following remain happily employed
. Sometimes regular faculty members teach in these programs, and it's possible that networking will lead to a referral

Is it likely that a continuing ed course will lead to an adjunct teaching job?
Maybe. It certainly seems possible, but I don't know. Who can answer this?
Is it likely that adjunct teaching will lead to a full-time position?
Here, I think, the answer ranges from “probably not” to "definitely no." I've never sought a full-time teaching job, so I'm basing my answer on observation. The artists I know who are in adjunct positions have remained in those positions, sometimes for years, even after getting the MFA. My guess is that once seen as adjuncts, that's where they remain in the the perception of colleagues and administration. They'd have to move out to move up. Who has experience with this?

Art Centers–Or Your Own Studio
If an academic affiliation is not important to you, there can be opportunities at nonprofits. (Don't be a snob: Some nonprofits have great facilities, good gallery space, and a constituency of enthusiastic students.) You don't necessarily have to have an advanced degree, just good ideas and proposals. A popular teacher with a following can earn a nice little income. Come up with ways to distinguish yourself:
. Propose an exhibition of your class’s work
. Propose an exhibition of your own work and organize a forum or panel on themes relating to what you’re showing and/or teaching
. Create a blog that the institution's administrator can use as a promotion tool for the institution. Your students will love seeing their work online, and you and your courses will benefit from the visibility

The increasing popularity of Open Studios means that you can create a mailing list of people who might be interested in studying with you. You may not need an institution at all.

Now, as they say in Italian , tocca a’ te. Your turn.


Anonymous said...

Hi Joanne,

Since I'm a full-time faculty member and program coordinator in a Visual Arts Department at a state university in Connecticut, I thought I'd jump in and say that some institutions, like mine, are more inclined to hire adjuncts when tenure track positions become available. Others never do. If you are ultimately interested in landing a tenure track job, find out what the department's hiring track record reveals before committing to part-time work. Put your effort into courting institutions that value their adjunct instructors. Some colleges and universities also offer funding opportunities for conference attendance and research support specifically for adjuncts.

Another thing to consider: When I was looking for part-time faculty over winterbreak, I put a notice on my Facebook page, and several high-quality applicants (friends of friends of friends, etc.) responded. Don't underestimate the power of online networking.

ps Did you see Blogpix is a Recommended PICK at ArtCal?

--Sharon @ Two Coats of Paint

Joanne Mattera said...

Thanks, Sharon.
That's great information.
And I'm going to check out the Art Cal pick right now!

Glenn said...

Thank you both, Joanne and Sharon, for your insight and perspective on this question. There is definitely no right or wrong way to go about finding an adjunct teaching position, though some ways are better than others. You both offer some good advice and ways of approaching this issue which I had not considered before. I agree that the online social networking has become a powerful tool and cannot be ignored as a resource.

Pamela Farrell said...

I have a few thoughts about this. Although they aren't high on the glamour scale, community or county colleges might be more accessible for adjunct positions, since they often run art classes on nights and Saturdays, times that are often covered by adjuncts. Second, it also seems that there might be more competition for positions at colleges within a close proximity to a major art program.
Nothing based on empirical evidence, just loose observation.
But I absolutely agree about networking. Good to let lots of folks know you are looking for an adjunct position using Facebook, Linked In, etc.
Good luck!

Pamela Farrell said...

Oh yeah...other resources: NYFA, CAA, and The Chronicle of Higher Education all have job databases on their websites...

S.A. said...

Joanne has given an amazingly comprehensive discussion of the ins and outs of adjuncthood. A few things that come to mind from my experience -- Many 4-year institutions will have a hard fast MFA requirement for adjuncts, unless they're in a major bind. If you don't have that credential, one way in is to approach 2-year colleges, or community colleges, where requirements can be a bit less stringent, and where you can get some very valuable teaching experience that might ultimately be more valuable than the MFA.

Also, in my experience, adjuncts do sometimes have a leg up in a national search -- they know the program, the search committee members, etc. --that is, IF they are doing an excellent job as adjunct.

I would also echo Joanne's point that teaching adjunct can be a most difficult way to pay the bills -- I don't know many people who can sustain it for more than a couple of years. You will almost certainly have to supplement it with some private students, or another part-time gig to offset the poor pay and unpredictability. On the up side, if all you're looking for is supplemental income, then adjunct teaching can be fantastic -- no committees, administrative responsibility or advisement duties, just teaching.

Joanne Mattera said...

Thanks, Pam and Steven--

I'd fogotten all about community colleges.

I'd add a couple other thoughts:
. Although the pay may be low, an academic affiliation can be a valuable asset if you consult or lecture independently
. There's nothing like a group of 20 year olds Twittering, texting and podcasting to noodge you out of your cyber complacency. Plus they can teach you how to do it

Joanne Mattera said...

Er, forgotten

Catherine Carter said...

I have been an adjunct at a Massachusetts state college for the past 7 years, and I supplement 1-2 courses a month there with 3-5 classes per semester (including summers) at a local art museum's school. I find it to be a wonderful arrangement. The salary isn't lavish but it provides all I need, and I have complete control over my schedule and my time.

I highly recommend a book called "How to Survive As An Adjunct Lecturer: An Entrepreneurial Strategy" by Jill Carroll ( has it).

Prof. Carroll explains why it's a misconception that adjuncts are downtrodden full-time-wannabes, and describes in great detail how to find and develop adjunct positions. She shows how to approach adjunct teaching as a business, in which every subject you teach is a product that you sell over and over again, semester after semester.

Best of luck to Glenn -- adjunct teaching has the potential to be a rewarding career path that allows you your freedom as well as the chance to encourage budding artists.

I think the most important point is that, once you get your foot in the door and prove yourself, you will constantly be hired back. Department heads want to hire faculty whom they know to be professional and dependable, so that they can move on to the 1,000 other little details they have to keep track of. Once you've won their trust, they will schedule you as often and as long as you want to work.

Catherine Carter

M said...

Thanks for posting this!

I recently graduated with an MA in art history and am trying find an adjunct position. Although it is difficult to get any type of work as an art historian right now (thanks, economic crisis!), I appreciate your tips. Like Catherine said, I just need to get my "foot in the door" at an institution. I can see many ways how your suggestions will help me accomplish this.

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Anonymous said...

So I have been teaching at a state institution in Wisconsin for 5 years (not madison), I started as adjunct, and then got the tenure track position. I had to make it through the interview, and I had solid student work. It can happen. We also have a number of adjuncts that we have committed to long term, one has been here 14 years, the other going on 9-10 years. They do everything just like everyone else. Committee work, advise students etc. We also have a large adjunct pool (6-10) depending on the need. This pool is typically made up of people who have their MFA's or PHD's for Art History, I vital criteria for getting hired in most cases. We have had a few MA or BFA hires in the past, but they come with a ton of professional experience, own a design firm, or teach elementary or something like that.

We also have a history of hiring many former grads who go off and get an MFA then come back and adjunct a few years then move on.(I did not do this here) That is a good way to get some experience. So if you can go back to were you got your BA or MA and see if they are looking, they are familiar with your potential and are often times willing to hire you. If you leave and get employed, that goes into their placement column. Get your name into the pool at all the universities, and make sure your student work, if you have some, is top notch. I know that this is often more important, in the case of adjuncts, than your own professional work. After all, your there to teach the students, make sure your student work shows that.

We have a national search going for a studio position, last time this happened we got 200 plus applicants, I am expecting 300 this time with the economy. Be willing to move, if you can, I show in NYC, and don't live there, it is possible to be part of the art world, and still live a short flight from it.

Last if your MA is in art education, find out who is teaching art ed in the area, our classes are sometimes different for arted students versus design students, they are often looking for people who might relate to those students.

I think networking is good too, but if you have good work, it is likely to get someone's attention and they might give you a call and see if you can teach that Monday evening drawing class.

Joanne Mattera said...

Thanks, Anon, for your good advice.

cat said...

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