September 2015 archive

The Adjunct Advantage: 3 Examples of Freedom, Empowerment, and Leverage


I’ve been stumbling upon some great reasons to be an adjunct instructor lately. I think, now more than ever, that it’s a viable makeshift career path that can leave teachers with options and flexibility. Here’s why:

1.You have leverage.

When you’re finally offered that full-time job, I encourage you to ask if you can keep working for at least one other school, potentially doubling your full-time salary. Typically you’re not permitted to work for other schools once you’ve accepted a full-time teaching opportunity and signed the contract. However, if the administration knows you have great connections and great pay elsewhere, they could be willing to negotiate and write it into the contract. For instance, I had been offered a full-time job at a university I loved, but I also had a fantastic adjunct gig working online and also making full-time pay. Because I had been strategic and reliable as an adjunct, I had the opportunity to make double the full-time salary they were offering.

2. You can prevent burnout and repetition by avoiding “the routine.”

I actually love having routines and structure in my life, but after having the same 8:30 am to 12:30 pm schedule for almost 3 years, I realized I didn’t want that much structure. I didn’t want to go to the same campus, at the same time, to teach the same classes repeatedly. I missed discovering new campuses, teaching new courses, and the anticipation of not knowing exactly what my schedule would be from semester to semester. Once I realized that, I took a hiatus from going to the same campus 3 mornings a week and opted to focus on my online classes, bask in some late mornings reading on my couch, and I decided to teach a new course with new material one night a week for a different college. It was absolutely refreshing, and also essential to keep me from burning out.

3. You have permission to explore your options.

I enjoy stability, but too much security makes me feel trapped, which is why I enjoy life as an adjunct. If one school becomes more demanding of you, or insists that you teach courses you’re not passionate anymore, become more committed to a different school and take a break from the one that’s smothering you. Maybe I’m a commitment-phobe, but I enjoy the autonomy and freedom that being an adjunct brings, and if a school wants to treat me life full-time staff, it’s incredibly flattering, but that’s not necessarily what I’m getting paid to do or why I’m there. I like to go where the opportunities for growth are- whether in online teaching options or in schedule flexibility- so when I’m not seeing that, it’s time to move on (another lesson in why it’s important to continually shop around for schools to see what gets you excited).

For those of you living in the adjunct world, add these advantages to your list of why it may not be so bad being a part-timer after all.
Happy teaching!

Life’s Simple Pleasures: 4 Things We All Need

IMG_9572cDuring a group presentation my students gave the other morning, it occurred to me that life has so many simple pleasures to offer. Whether it’s watching my students’ hard work pay off, creating a class activity that I hope might motivate others, or appreciating the flexibility and satisfaction that my lifestyle provides, I have so many simple things in life that put a smile on my face consistently.

As a result of being inspired by these international students and the message they had to share, I spent my office hours that day deciding what the most crucial of life’s small pleasures are, and naturally decided to share them with you all.

Essentially, these are the 4 things that make my life complete, and they’re probably more universal than I realize:

  1. Rest

We all need to take a break from hard work; preferably a longer break than we typically give ourselves.

I’m starting to realize that, although I’ve accomplished some of my biggest goals during summer breaks from school, it might be a better idea to use some of that time to actually recharge and allow myself to be lazy. Give yourself permission to fully experience the contrast between busy and relaxed. It just means you’ll be even more ready to conquer your next creative challenge.

  1. Small successes

I once heard someone say, “You don’t want to accomplish every one of your life’s goals today; life is no fun without desires. Instead, enjoy the small successes each day.”

I’ve always been one to savor the small moments, which tends to make every day feel like a big deal. I may not have screaming fans, but I have the occasional student who tells me I inspired them. I may not be a sought-after speaker around the world, but I’ve been asked to do the occasional paid speaking gig and to be a guest host on podcasts. My husband may not have bought me a diamond bracelet (not that I’m into that anyway), but he did jot a sweet note to me before he left for work.

In the grand scheme of things, it all feels about the same. I’d much rather enjoy all the small things- and the occasional large success is okay, too.

  1. Variety

This small pleasure is one that never occurred to me until today. I think I’d had so much variety in my life from age 15 on, that I’d forgotten how fun and important it is to continually incorporate changes when life becomes more routine in those late 20-something years. Growing up you have different boyfriends, various hobbies, then a new dorm room from year to year, an endless list of college classes to potentially take, and eventually you try on different jobs and search for some semblance of stability.

Then all of a sudden the changes are less frequent. Suddenly life is just one big routine that’s a little too structured, and you wonder when it happened.

That’s one reason why I’ve always liked being a part-time teacher. Each semester you have a different schedule to adjust to, a different commute, a new textbook to use, and new faces in your classroom. It’s part of the reason I don’t think I could ever settle into a full-time position; the variety makes me feel alive and inspired.

  1. Gratitude

I had to end with gratitude; this is the Happy Professor blog, after all. As I mentioned above, my life has a comfortable amount of variety in it, but I still notice myself slipping into ruts now and then. My routine can feel too routine, teaching the same class day after day can get monotonous, meeting my sister for our Monday kickboxing class feels like a chore, and I stop noticing that my husband did the dishes again.

Then I step back and take it all in. I’m incredibly lucky. The fact that I have the luxury of falling into a temporary rut is something to be grateful for.

For now, those are the 4 simple pleasures my life has to offer, and when I step back to take a good look, I appreciate every single one of them.

Experiments in Positive Psychology

DSC_4984 copyPsychology has been a fascination of mine for as long as I can remember, and so has the idea happiness. So naturally, Flourish by the father of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, has been on my list of books to read for quite a while.

I’m not done listening to the borrowed audiobook, but so far I’ve enjoyed hearing the personal and entertaining accounts of Seligman’s college teaching career and his commitment to the field of positive psychology.

He mentioned a few activities that one could do to increase their happiness levels. We’ve all heard about gratitude journals and changing perspectives, but one in particular seemed easier and more powerful than most, so I’ve decided to give it a try.

It’s called the “What Went Well Exercise.”

The simple directions are: Write down 3 things that went well and why they each went well.

According to Seligman, this daily habit will lead to a happier life just 6 months down the road.

For today I might say:

  1. I had a really great conversation with my brother-in-law because I’ve made it a point to discover what we have in common.
  2. I loved reading Aziz Ansari’s new book Modern Romance because my girlfriend suggested it at lunch last week, and she knows I love comedians and anything I can also reference in the communication classroom (a win win!).
  3. I really enjoyed grading online discussion posts because I needed a pick me up and so much of what my students had to say was inspiring.


I’ve been doing the activity for 4 weeks now, and I’ve started to look forward to grabbing my journal on my bedside table to scribble a few things down before falling asleep. It has lead to a brighter perspective and a positive outlook each morning!

I encourage you to do one thing each day that will make a significant positive impact on your life.

As always, happy learning and happy living!

The Best Weakness

DSC_4050 copyWe all excel in different areas, and we’re each particularly awful in others. I happen to be really bad at committing to anything that doesn’t feel 100% right.

I strongly encourage you to be terrible at it, too.

I used to think it was a weakness, and so did my parents (I’m sure other millennials can relate).

This “weakness” led to a very small pool of long-term career options, being almost impolite at times (saying a simple “No thanks” to things without understanding why I couldn’t just suck it up), and cutting out activities that on, some levels, I actually really liked.

I didn’t realize this weakness was actually a powerful tool until it became an ongoing joke in my marriage.

My apologetically politically incorrect husband said to me one day, years ago: “You have a really great disability, and it keeps your life on the right track.” Whenever this characteristic of mine would make an appearance, he would point it out. Always.

And this constant recognition made me increasingly proud to own this quality.

I’m no different than anyone else, except that when my gut says something, I listen and act accordingly, every time. If I don’t, I can’t sleep for weeks, or I break out in hives, or trip on the last stair and nearly twist an ankle.

Essentially, I’m just ‘off.’ Really off. To the point that things feel basically wrong until I detect the problem and correct it.

Yes, it makes me feel like an outsider at times, but it also keeps me at my happiest.

I hate playing sports and refuse with a simple “No thanks” (apparently I can’t stomach the competitiveness of sports because I’d rather see people at their kindest). I was the worst girlfriend in the world, breaking up with guys over a quick chat for no good reason (but my gut had a good reason). I knew instantly that my future was in teaching when I counted down the seconds of every other internship or temporary job situation. I get incredibly stressed out when I accumulate material things, so as a result, my life and responsibilities are much more manageable than the average person. I gave up watching TV because it never put me in a better mood, yet my more educational interests always left me inspired.

Everyone has this “disability,” it just needs to be acknowledged more frequently in order to become more powerful. If a job doesn’t feel right, don’t sign that contract to start full-time work for them. If you’re not sure you’re in love, don’t agree to move in with her. If that reality show leaves you feeling like you wasted precious time and caused your mood to plummet, watch an inspiring TED talk instead.

Every time you ignore your gut, you move further down a path that takes you away from true happiness, and it becomes increasingly harder to get back to where you felt “right.”

But if you decide to tune in to your true instincts, and listen to what the real you is quietly saying, you may just find yourself in the best situation of your life. The same way that the puzzle pieces of a chaotic existence can wreak havoc on your soul, the puzzle pieces of an intentional life can make every day feel 100% right and meaningful.

So try tuning out of the world and into yourself for a change, and let the pieces fall into place.