Reflections of Former Part-time Instructor

Last semester (Fall 2011) was my first semester teaching full-time.  As such, I have learned a lot of lessons about what bothers me and what does not bother me.  However, the biggest thing I noticed is that when certain behaviors bother me now, I actually want to do something to prevent them from happening again in the future.  But during my eight years of teaching part-time, I never did anything about it.

That got me thinking about why if those behaviors bother me so much, why I never did anything about them in the past, as a part-time instructor.  Here are a couple of my thoughts on why part-time instructors might be less likely to take action:

1.  They are scared.  First of all, they are scared about losing their job.  Many part-time instructors have multiple positions at multiple schools because they actually need the money.  So, if they tell students not to do something, it is quite possible that the students might complain.  And the fear among a lot of part-time instructors is that if there are too many student complaints against them, they will be fired.

2.  Lack of support.  Many colleges I have taught at in the past seemed to have supportive administrators until I actually needed to enforce the rules.  When I started to enforce rules, the administration started complaining about the increase in students in their offices due to my enforcement of the rules.  Several times, in fact, I was told to just to be quiet and give the students the grades that they wanted.  After a while, I just got fed up and just gave up.

3.  We’ll never see those students again.  As a part-time instructor, I generally taught the same developmental math classes every semester.  So, it was very rare that I would ever have a person as a student more than once.  Thus, if there was a student who really bothered me one semester, it was very likely that I wouldn’t have that student again since the student would be moving on the next class that I would not be teaching.  Problem solved, right?  Until the next batch of students arrived.

I know I am probably stating the obvious.  So, what can we do to change the classroom environment for our part-time instructors?  I honestly believe that we need to reach out to them and share our ideas about what has worked for us in the classroom and what has not worked for us in the classroom.

I have to say, every semester the first day of class becomes more and more scary for me.  I now know it is the most important day in terms of setting the tone for the semester.  The very first semester I taught, I was nervous on the first day of class, but not scared.  There is a big difference between being nervous and being scared.  But none of this means that I have to come to class every day for the next sixteen weeks dealing with behaviors that I should not have to put up with in the classroom.