This post is part of a series on sessional teaching. The first installment: Because you need the money. The second: Because you need the experience The third: What if it’s not worth it? The fourth: Make sure sessional teaching develops your skills
As term time approaches, those of you who don’t have tenure track or tenured positions in universities may be considering various options for sessional teaching. I’m not talking about Teaching Assistantships, but rather opportunities to teach one or more courses, usually for a flat fee (albeit paid biweekly or semi-monthly or whatever).
Sometimes these offers come in very late in the game (even the week before term starts). We all know that the pay is low for the work involved, and that it will not reflect your experience or training.
It is never a good idea to act as if you are desperate. So what kinds of things might you consider before taking that session teaching?
If you haven’t seen the comment left on the 2nd post in this series, I encourage you to go look at it.
I wrote these posts because I know that there are many people out there taking sessional teaching jobs and telling themselves that this will help them secure a permanent (tenure track) academic position.
Some of you are telling yourselves this is important teaching experience.
Some of you are telling yourselves it is a foot in the door.
I also know that many of you are finding it difficult to work on your dissertation or publish because of all the time and energy you are spending on sessional teaching.
If you want a career in a research intensive university…
… teaching experience may be irrelevant. As the commentor on that earlier post said, at most you might want to teach one class in your field, preferably one that doesn’t take too much of your time and energy.
When I tweeted about that post (and comment), one of my followers, who works as an administrator in a research intensive institution confirmed that most of the CVs she sees in the files of new hires have little or no teaching experience.
If you want a career in a primarily undergraduate university…
… a small liberal arts college, or other higher education institution that values teaching, teaching experience is only going to be valuable if you have finished the dissertation (preferably in a timely manner) and been able to publish.
Most higher education institutions value scholarly activity
Publishing is the primary criteria used to evaluate your scholarly activity and assess your potential to continue that activity once hired.
Sessional teaching is rarely a foot in the door
I would say “never” except that I know that in universities without a tenure system, like some of the smaller universities in British Columbia, new faculty may be hired initially as sessionals, or on short term contracts, and regularized later. This may also happen in the UK, though usually not in the big research intensive institutions.
In most situations working as a sessional makes you invisible and inherently unsuitable for secure employment in that institution. In the same way that the institution where you study for your PhD is highly unlikely ever to hire you (except maybe much later in your career when you have proved yourself elsewhere).
Sessional teachers are cheap, disposable labour
The entire system of higher education would collapse tomorrow without them, but sessional teachers are not valued. The phrase “reserve army of labour” comes to mind when I think about it.
If you decide to do sessional teaching (and many of you will), I strongly encourage you to join the union and take advantage of whatever support they provide. Let your union rep know what you want them to be fighting for on your behalf.
Do it with your eyes wide open
Be clear about why you are doing it and what you are sacrificing.
Limit your commitment to what you are being paid for. Students can’t tell the difference between casual labour and permanent faculty. You can explain that you are part-time, casual labour and that you are paid to be available only so many hours per week.
Don’t do anything for students that is not directly related to the class you are teaching. The permanent faculty can deal with letters of recommendation, advising, etc.
And make sure that you are writing. Or doing something else that will help you get a more secure, satisfying long-term career