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Back to School: What It’s Like to Teach Public Relations as an Adjunct

I’m heading back to school this fall…but not as a student.

I’m returning to Temple University for my third semester as an adjunct faculty member teaching Public Relations Writing to undergraduate students studying public relations at the Klein College of Media and Communication.

This role is so special to me because it’s one I dreamed of when I sat in the very same classroom I now teach in as an undergrad nearly a decade ago.

What it’s like to be an adjunct?

Becoming an adjunct isn’t always an easy process.

I know when I first started exploring the opportunity, I didn’t know much about what it entailed besides showing up to class to teach.

Obviously, a lot more goes into teaching a college course besides the actual teaching part of it.

Read on to learn why I teach, how I became an adjunct at Temple and what it’s like to teach an undergraduate public relations course.

Why I teach

As an eager public relations student at Temple University not too long ago, I completely nerded out when it came to my communications courses.

I looked up to my professors, especially adjuncts who often taught one or two classes a semester on the side of their full-time jobs working in the field. I relished hearing about their experiences in the PR world, often bringing their day-to-day client stories into the classroom.

Many of those professors, among others, became mentors to me — some of whom I still keep in touch with today — and one of whom hired me to be an adjunct myself. (Full circle moment, right?!)

I knew one day I wanted to teach too.

I wanted to give back to students the way so many amazing professionals had done for me.

And I knew the value I could share with students, as someone who worked in the PR world for six years before starting a communications business of her own.

How I became an adjunct

How did I become an adjunct?

Well…I was persistent.

As I mentioned, during my time at Temple I became close to many of my professors, including the department head responsible for hiring adjuncts. While I was a student, this particular professor became a mentor to me, as he served as the faculty advisor for two PR groups I belonged to.

A few years after graduation, I planted the bug in his ear: “Hey! I want to teach! How do I do that?!”

I’d continue to follow up on it every so often when I saw him around at events.

After reconnecting at an event on campus, he asked me to send my resume, and said he’d keep me in mind for future teaching opportunities, though the upcoming semester was already covered.

The opportunity to teach came much quicker than I anticipated!

Just a few days before the start of the fall 2016 semester, I received an email that Temple had an immediate need for an adjunct to teach a PR Writing course, and was I interested?

Yes, yes, and yes!

Despite having quite literally three days before the start of the semester, I dove in headfirst.

This may not have been the most traditional of methods to get my foot in the door, but for those interested in pursuing teaching at a college, start by asking around to see what the requirements are to become an adjunct in the area you’re interested in.

In my case as a PR professional, a graduate degree was not necessary, though I know that’s a requirement for some majors and schools.

And don’t be afraid to be persistent (professionally, of course). It can go a long way.

How does an adjunct prepare for a new semester?

A lot of work goes into teaching!

The work starts a few months before the semester begins. Here are some of the tasks that get done during that time:

  • Create the course syllabus, and get it approved by the department.
  • Select a textbook for the course. In my case, I used a book recommended to me by another professor, and have continued to use it for the past few semesters.
  • Create the class schedule — this part can be time-consuming. For example, a semester is about 15 weeks long, yet this course has 19 chapters to cover. It’s a bit of a puzzle to figure out how to fit all the curriculum into the course in a way that makes sense, while not overloading the students.
  • Select and invite guest speakers. I love inviting fellow PR professionals to speak to my class. It allows the students to network with people in the industry (and gives them a break from listening to me speak week after week). In the past, I’ve had speakers come to class from Visit Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Flyers, PR agencies, journalists, radio personalities and more.
  • Prepare the course material. This includes actually reading the chapters myself, developing presentations based off of the material and creating homework assignments for each chapter. It also involves creating quizzes and exams, along with developing the guidelines for a final project, which is a big component of the class I teach. Easily, this is the single most challenging part of preparing to teach, and requires the most amount of time.
  • Get the learning management system set up for the students. When I was in college, we used Blackboard — Temple now uses Canvas which is an awesome platform for sharing materials, communicating with students, grading and more.

How much time does being an adjunct require?

I teach one night class/week from 5:30-8 p.m. so the time commitment seems minimal.

Right? Well, not exactly.

Here’s a breakdown of how I spend my time each week (and that’s after considering all the work that went into preparing for the semester since at this point, I have all my materials mostly ready to go).

  • Reviewing the week’s chapter + presentation: 1 hour
  • Grading homework from the week prior: 2 hours (depending on the number of students and complexity of the assignment)
  • Communicating with students outside of class (answering emails, reviewing drafts of their writing before submission, etc.): 1 hour
  • Commuting to and from Temple: 1.5 hours
  • Office hours: 30 minutes
  • Teaching: 2.5 hours (Give or take)

Approximate total time/week: 8.5 hours

As you can see, the time quickly adds up! Of course, it also depends on the point of the semester we’re in. Some weeks are busier than others with more grading or prepping.

What is it like to teach a college class?

In short, it’s exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.

The first semester was the hardest, as any new experience tends to be.

Now that I’m on my third go-round, I’ve developed a process and figured out what works. It’s a bit more seamless now.

For me, teaching is fun! I love public speaking, and I enjoy passing along my knowledge. It’s also fun for me to get to know the future PR professionals I’ll one day work alongside. I learn just as much from these bright students as I’m sure they learn from me.

Teaching can also be nerve-wracking. There’s nothing like standing in front of a room of people and posing a question to blank stares back at you. (It doesn’t happen often, PR students tend to like to talk, but it does happen from time to time.)

Because I teach a writing-intensive course, I spend a lot of time editing and grading. This part is fun for me because I am an editor for a living!

Coming back to campus once a week is also a treat. It helps me stay connected to my alma mater in a new way. And since I work from home, it’s especially nice join the working world and get out of the house in “professional” clothes once a week.

The best parts of teaching

  • Getting to know future PR professionals, and have a small part in shaping their experience and perceptions about the field
  • Having the ability to share my experiences with the students + tell them all the stuff I wish I learned in college
  • Staying connected to my alma mater and industry
  • Keeping up with my own PR and writing skills
  • Honing my public speaking skills

the difficult parts of teaching

  • Squeezing a lot of material into a short amount of time
  • Time management — fitting teaching into my day to day of running JL&Co
  • Dealing with some hard stuff like having to fail a student for plagiarism or having difficult conversations with students about their grades

Can you make money being an adjunct?

Here’s the question I’m sure you’re all wondering the answer to — it’s definitely something I was curious before I started teaching.

How much do adjuncts make?

A lot of people joke that they don’t get into teaching for the money, and that sentiment holds true here.

Glassdoor reports that part-time adjuncts earn about $1,907/month — in my experience, that’s a bit high, but that could be based on a number of factors.

I get paid a flat rate for the semester, broken into four monthly payments. I won’t share the exact figure since I’m sure it varies from school to school, but the range for the total semester rate is between $3,800 and $5,000.

Of course the extra cash is a perk, but it’s not why I teach.

Back to school!

I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to teach at my alma mater.

Temple is a place I love with all my heart — it shaped me into the communicator I am today.

The chance to return week after week to teach future generations of PR professionals is a responsibility I don’t take lightly.

A friend recently asked me if there was any job out there that could lure me away from my business and back to a 9-5. At first, I was stumped but after thinking about it for a bit, teaching in a larger capacity is perhaps one of the only roles that could potentially pull me back into the working world.

But that’s a decision for another day, many years down the line.

For now, I truly look forward to many more semesters of teaching as an adjunct.

Have any questions about being an adjunct? I’d love to answer them in the comments below.

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Meet Jessica

I live by the saying “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” and help others do the same to reach their biggest, brightest goals. Read my story here.

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