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The Challenges and Rewards of Adjunct Professors Who Teach in Educational Leadership Programs

Module by: Carol Ritter. E-mail the author

Summary: The use of adjunct faculty positions has been a growing reality for over thirty years in colleges and universities across the nation. The adjunct faculty makes up 46% of the college and university teachers and 65 % of the adjunct and non-tenure track positions (Euban, 2006). The adjunct professors do not have permanent positions with the university. Usually, they are hired on a semester by semester basis and do not have a full-time contract. These part-time positions are considered a minimum teaching load that does not require the professors to have research or administrative responsibilities. Their employment is dependent on the number of students who enroll in each course offered and they are paid by the number of hours they teach (Kamps, 1996; Wegner, MacGregor & Watson, 2003).



This module has been peer-reviewed, accepted, and sanctioned by the National Council of Professors of Educational Administration (NCPEA) as a scholarly contribution to the knowledge base in educational administration.

The adjunct faculty provides a valuable service to the university. However, these professors are often not recognized for their efforts (Taylor, 2003). According to Banahowski (1996) there were three main rationales institutions of higher learning utilized when hiring adjunct faculty. The first was a fiscal responsibility. Adjunct professors received a lower pay rate than full-time employees. Second, it provided flexibility when student enrollment exceeded the expected number. Universities were able to provide additional classes taught by adjunct professors which in turn provided supply for the demand. Third, adjunct professors brought real world experiences into the classroom. Adjunct faculty members frequently came from outside academe and provided unique perspectives to their work (Wilkinson, 2003). Many times these professors were employed full time outside of university settings and enjoyed sharing their expertise with their students. Others were ending their careers or had retired (Lyons, 1999).

The adjunct professor faces numerous challenges in the workplace today. They are not considered full-time faculty members, and they stand on the second or third rung of the academic ladder. Frequently, they are not given any support from the university such as an office, access to e-mail, a telephone, a computer, and a copy machine (Taylor, 2003). Due to unexpected enrollment numbers, adjunct instructors are asked to teach an assignment on short notice without having a general idea of the course material. They also teach in remote locations and feel disconnected from the university (Lyons, 1999; NEA, 1997). These part-time workers are left to teach on their own with little or no communication or support from the full-time faculty or the university (Johnson, MacGregor, & Watson, 2001).

Although there are many challenges associated with being an adjunct professor, there are also many rewards. The first and most important reward that adjunct professors received is the fundamental gratification that comes from teaching. They enjoyed teaching classes that provided students with the ability to connect the information learned in the classroom to the outside world (Lyons, 1999). Adjunct professors taught for the love of teaching (Delaney, 2001). Smallwood (2001) found that one adjunct professor believed that in order be successful she must first love the job of teaching. This love of teaching motivated adjuncts to find additional teaching positions, which in turn helped to develop their teaching business.

Lyons (1999) found that numerous adjunct professors do not teach for the money. They wanted to contribute their knowledge and experiences, congregate with fascinating people and be inspired intellectually. Many adjunct professors hold full times jobs outside of the university and bring experiences and skills that are valuable to their students (Laurence, 1998). According to Gappa and Leslie (2002), adjunct professors were originally brought to the colleges and universities in order to share their profession or specialty with students. They usually have a full-time career in their chosen profession. The University of Queensland (2003) posited that professors who were practitioners in the field they were teaching strengthened the programs at their university by utilizing the application of real-life perspectives.

Adjunct professors who are also currently fulfilling educational leadership roles in schools today have found that the sharing of knowledge with future school leaders is extremely rewarding (Wegner, MacGregor & Watson, 2003). Schneider (2003) posited that practicing superintendents’ primary motivation for becoming an adjunct professor included: (a) personal growth, (b) the giving of their knowledge to fledging leaders and (c) the hope of improving future leaders. They were not deterred by the low adjunct salaries paid by the university because the majority of their total compensation flowed from their superintendent positions.

From the students’ perspective Watson and MacGregor (2002) found that educational leadership graduate students appreciated practitioners bringing their real world experiences into the classroom. Adjunct professors who were practicing administrators had the ability to apply theories learned in the classroom to actual school experiences.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this qualitative study was to examine the perceptions of educational leadership adjunct professors. These perceptions were examined in order to identify both the challenges and rewards these professors faced while teaching in educational leadership programs.

Investigative Methodology

A convenience sample of nine adjunct professors was obtained. These professors were teaching masters level K-12 educational leadership classes at a university in the southwest area of the United States in the fall semester of the 2006 academic year. All of the adjunct professors held terminal degrees in the field of educational leadership. Six of the professors were currently practicing administrators. Three professors were currently assistant superintendents. Another was a principal and two worked in leadership positions at their school district’s central office. Three of the professors had recently retired. Two of the professors were retired principals and one was a retired superintendent. Two professors were female and seven were male. All of the adjunct professors had taught in the principal preparation program at this university for three or more years. These adjunct professors’ responsibilities consisted solely of teaching. They were not responsible for research or university service.

Data was collected during the fall semester of 2006. Participants were asked to participate in the study and all participation was voluntary. The researcher met with each professor either individually or in small groups. During the meeting the study was explained to the adjunct professors and they were asked to participate in the study. The professors who chose to participate were then given a questionnaire and asked to individually reflect in writing on their experiences as an educational leadership adjunct professor. They were asked to answer two open ended questions. The first question requested them to identify any challenges they faced in their role of adjunct professor. The second question asked them to state their most rewarding experiences as an adjunct professor. Participants were not allowed to discuss their responses with either the researcher or other participants and all responses were confidential.

This data was analyzed following the recommendations of Bogdan and Biklen (1998) where the responses for each question were organized by comparing, contrasting, aggregating and ordering the information. Ideas about the data were developed that used a structured and formalized method of experimenting with ideas and relating the ideas to research. Next, a color coding system was used to identify emergent themes that developed from the research. The themes that emerged identified both the challenges and rewards these adjunct professors experienced while teaching in an educational leadership program.


Separation from the university was the dominate theme which emerged concerning the challenges these adjunct professors experienced. The separation from the university isolated the adjunct professors from university and faculty support. The isolation was the major cause of the challenges that the adjunct professors faced.

The love of teaching was the dominant theme that emerged when evaluating the data concerning the rewards of being an educational leadership adjunct professor. These professors taught because they enjoyed teaching and sharing their profession with their students.


Separation from the university that resulted in isolation from other faculty members was the dominant theme that emerged when investigating the challenges of the adjunct educational leadership professors. The professors indicated that they could benefit in a number of ways if they worked more closely with the full-time professors. The adjunct professors wanted to know how to develop syllabi and teach course content in ways that ensured that all of the essential standards were included. They also wanted to discuss managing classroom space when teaching at off campus sites. In regard to working with difficult students one adjunct professor wrote, “I sometimes felt out of the loop in terms of info. about students. I felt it was something I was doing wrong, when actually other staff members had the same problems.”

The isolation from other faculty members and university support also resulted in difficulties concerning technology. Obtaining computer accounts, using BlackBoard to communicate with their classes and learning to provide quality online instruction were the major concerns. One adjunct said, “I have faced a few challenges in the role of adjunct professor more related to technology. Since I teach an online course, I’ve found that some students are not as technologically literate as others. I have also experienced situations where students are not proficient in using BlackBoard.”

One adjunct professor suggested a way to lessen the isolation by having a site on BlackBoard where adjunct professors could discuss current issues. This would provide a way for the adjunct professors to network with one another and with the full-time professors. It would also provide a way for the adjunct professors to discuss successful teaching strategies and to help each other successfully manage the occasional problem student.


The love of teaching was the main theme that emerged. These adjunct professors of educational leadership were currently fulfilling school administrator positions in schools and districts or, they were recently retired school administrators. However, at one time in their career each had been a classroom teacher and their latent love of teaching was re-kindled by their professorship. One professor stated, “My most rewarding experience has been returning to teaching. I have been an administrator for more than 15 years; and though I’ve worked with principals and superintendents, it is not the same as working with students.”

The professors indicated that they enjoyed teaching because they were able to share their knowledge and experience in order to see their students make the transformation from classroom teachers to administrators. These professors were focused on the application of classroom material in order to prepare these teachers for the principalship. One professor stated, that his most rewarding experience was, “Helping young people reach their dreams to become a principal!” Another professor declared, “I believe that my role as an adjunct professor impacts administrator preparation, so it’s more proactive-instead of just providing staff development and training once employees become Principals.”

Another reward which resulted from the professors’ love of teaching was the recognition and appreciation they received from their students. The love of teaching that they brought to the classroom was reciprocated by the students. One professor acknowledged, “I enjoy the wonderful letters that I have received from appreciative students after the course is completed.” Another stated, “We explore reflective/discovery questions together and their involvement and enthusiasm is very rewarding.” Yet another said, "It is particularly rewarding when I receive e-mails thanking me for covering something in class that [later] became an issue in their practice.”


Even though these adjunct professors who taught educational leadership courses faced the challenge of separation from the university, their love of teaching motivated them to continue in the position of adjunct professor. The rewards seemed to outweigh the challenges for these professors. These rewards motivated them to continue teaching, even with their demanding schedules. As one participant who had completed her doctoral program at this university stated, “I thoroughly enjoy teaching for [this university] because of the support I received as a doctoral student and the support I continue to receive still-even after the challenges!”


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