Have you ever wondered how to get started as an Adjunct Social Work Professor? Well I know I did when I was first starting out in the profession and I had no clue how to get started.
Teaching is often times one of the most common ways we think about increasing our income as Social Workers. After all, we are facilitating groups, we are educating parents about parenting strategies and behavior modification techniques,and teaching children how to enhance their social skills, so it seems like an easy enough transition. Well, that’s not exactly the case. Although colleges and universities are looking to increase their roll of part time Social Work instructors to save money and on paying out insurance benefits, you as a part time instructor, are not held to any less of a standard as it relates to preparation, teaching and knowledge. This is actually a HUGE issue that adjuncts have with higher ed institutions…but we can touch on that another time. But as you transition, keep in mind that part time does not mean less qualified and there are at least 5 key things that I wanted to share with you that you should keep in mind if you want to become a faculty member.
1. Make Sure Your Resume Reflects Your Skills and Experience
When I first applied to be an Adjunct faculty member I didn’t get so much as a second look. I was young, I didn’t have a lot of experience and I didn’t have any formal teaching experience. Looking back, there was nothing about my resume that indicated that I could handle teaching new Social Workers about the profession. As I progressed in the field, I started attending more professional training and gaining more confidence. So I applied again. By this time my mentor had been working with me to prepare and this made a huge difference in how I presented myself professionally. I created a Curriculum Vitae, I began writing more and contributing to the profession in ways that really displayed the depth of my knowledge.
2. Ask Yourself, “Am I A Good Teacher?”
For me, I knew that I was a good coach, and for me that meant I knew how to explain step by step processes and I knew how to use good metaphors. But that didn’t mean that I knew how to explain Social Work theory, concepts and ideas and how that translates to practice. Taking students along that educational path requires both skill and practice. So I had to study good teachers and talk to them about learning theory. I had to learn how they structured their classroom and maintained the pace of instruction. I took advantage of training opportunities offered by the college and continued to read about struggles faced by first year students and adult learners. Ask yourself, am I patient?, am I committed to the learning process, am I a lifelong learner and do I appreciate student inquiry.
3. Do You Have Connections You Can Make?
Becoming a Social Work instructor requires making connections. Your coworkers at the Social Work agencies that you are working for may be a good place to start. You could ask your supervisor or check with local Social Work groups or with you local NASW or NABSW chapters. Also make connections at your local social justice agencies or chambers of commerce.
4. Do You Have Enough Time To Dedicate?
As a Social Work Adjunct you will not only be required to set office hours for your students, you will also need to set aside time to grade papers and to communicate with students regarding grades and assignments. If you have students with disabilities, accommodations may need to be made for them so you will need to be open to what this will look like in your classroom. Not only do you need to have time to grade, but you also need time to prepare course materials. This includes printing out handouts, case studies, reports or other relevant information to the course lecture. It is important to not short change the students because you are preparing the next generation of Social Work students, not only do they need to be prepared to pass their licensure exams but they also need to feel equipped to handle the various social problems faced within communities.
5. Are You An Effective Student Advocate?
Lastly, you will need to ask yourself are you a student advocate. Often times students have input and feedback about the relevance of course material or the delivery of the course material. You should be comfortable using your creativity as well as out-of-the-box strategies to present concepts in ways that students can grasp. Social Work students can bring many life challenges into the classroom, and because our focus is the Social Work profession, your classroom can be a learning lab where students can explore ways to help clients manage when they are faced with competing priorities or tough decisions. In all things, you want to create a classroom that is collaborative and considers the needs of diverse learners as well as the sensitivities of cultural difference.
As more and more people are learning online, Social work programs are expanding their need for equipped faculty to meet the demands of the profession. Even if you don’t feel that you are ready to apply for a Social Work program with your current level of experience there are always opportunities to volunteer for an initiative or an event hosted by the school or the Social Work department. Also, departments are oftentimes looking for Social Workers who can talk to their students about job opportunities, working in the community and real life experiences in the field. Reaching out to the school’s Social Work department to inquire about these opportunities can be a great way to make those needed connections. If the college is hosting a conference, submit a proposal to be considered as featured speaker or to host a workshop. If you don’t feel equipped or that you don’t have enough experience to facilitate on your own, consider co-facilitating with a more seasoned colleague or coworker. This will be a good way to increase your skills and will help position you as an expert in the profession.