Friday’s Food for Thought

Do you remember what it’s like to be a student?  The excitement, the anxiety, the fear, and the promise of your future success?

I tackle this feeling often.  When I first started teaching as an adjunct over twelve years ago, I nearly burst into my first classroom filled to the brim with energy, ideas, and, yes, the solution to every teaching challenge you can imagine.  I was going to be “that teacher” everyone remembered.  When my students graduated and moved on to their careers, it would be me they would recall as the most influential person in their lives.

As the years progressed, and I taught more, and often some of the same classes on rotation, I could feel a certain amount of redundancy in my approach.  Some of my syllabi even became—*gasp*–stale.

So how do we stay fresh?  How do we recapture the “newness” of being a student, where everything is open to exploration?

Some things that have worked for me, and may appeal to you:

*  Take a class!  Yup!  The best way to renew your student spirit is to be a student again.  This could be anything from a professional development course, do actually starting a new degree program if you’re ready for that.  It doesn’t even necessarily have to be related to your field or your career.  The point is–engage your mind!

*  Refresh your syllabus.  Don’t get stuck in the rut!  Change it up each semester/term (if you can).  Or, at the very least, if you have a fixed syllabus (as many institutions do), try to supplement the experience.  Add a movie, a video, an extra reading, or a collaborative activity.  Check with your department chairs to make sure that’s OK, but usually it’s a nice way to freshen things up.  Check out this great article about David Foster Wallace’s syllabi (authored by Katie Roiphe of

*  Ask a colleague to observe you.  Observations by supervisors, chairs, deans, are, to be sure, nerve-inducing events.  So, ask a close co-worker or colleague to watch one of your classes, and you return the favor to him/her.  Then share tips and tools with each other.  If you are teaching an online course, ask a colleague to review some of your posts and perhaps give you suggestions for new and innovative ways to challenge students in the discussion forums.

Most of all–don’t ever stop learning!  I cannot impart knowledge to my students if I, myself, block my own learning.

Please share your thoughts and thanks for reading!





Teaching as an adjunct is like painting a new house.Image


You may, indeed, wonder where I’m heading with that statement, or if I’m drawing a really long bow in search of topics for this holiday weekend.  Stick with me, and I hope that you appreciate the analogy a bit more as it is worked through.

For over 12 years, I taught as an adjunct (under myriad titles:  adjunct instructor, adjunct professor in residence, visiting professor, etc, etc) at various universities and community colleges in the Chicago region.  It was a great experience, to be sure, and I certainly would not change it for anything.  But, I often struggled to define my role beyond teaching, and understand what it meant to be an “adjunct”.

Maybe I spent too much time overthinking the title “adjunct”.  On a basic level, for me, it signaled that I was, of course, “part-time”.  That carried certain benefits: flexible schedule, reasonable hours, no obligation for meetings, and contact with great colleagues and students.  It also carried challenges: uncertainty of available courses, no benefit packages, lack of opportunity for tenure and probably several more that each of us have experienced at one time or another.

My wife and I recently bought a new home, and while I was painting some of the bedrooms, it dawned on me that the painting process could serve as an appropriate analogy for teaching as an adjunct (and who knows, maybe it applies to everyone in education—but I am taking the liberty here of applying my analogy to the world of adjuncts!).

So, here we go:

“The Paint”

The paint reflects my students.  Great variety, culture, and color!  Dynamic and vibrant, or simple and plain.

“The Brush”

The brush represents me (us), the instructor, charged with creating an atmosphere from nothing.  Gathering students in one place for a period of time and trying to produce of work of art, and some lasting impressions.

“The Walls”

They are our canvas, and serve, for me, as a representation of learning.  At the risk of using an overused cliché, the blank walls are our “tabula rasa”, our new beginnings each term, or with each endeavor.

“Elusive, hard-to get corners”

C’mon…you know them.  Impossible corners or little nooks.  It’s hard to tape them, and even harder to paint.  These are our challenges, and they vary for each of us.  The key is to keep these difficulties in perspective to the larger painting job that we undertake.

What do you think?  Does my analogy fit you?  If so, can you think of other pieces to the painting process that speak to us as educators?  If not, can you suggest another visual that can help us all relate to our common experience?  Please share!

Best wishes and safe journeys for the Memorial Day weekend.