A semester as an adjunct journalism professor

After teaching a month-long high school journalism course through Temple University, I was asked to stay on as an adjunct for the Fall 2010 semester in the journalism department. I was thrilled.

I spent the next 15 weeks teaching 13 students — mostly freshmen — about grammar and AP Style, and worked as a teaching assistant for Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab, Temple’s capstone journalism program, with which I have a partnership through my business, NEast Philly.

Aside from being excited about the new opportunity, I also looked forward to teaching two classes I’d taken as a student at Temple.

It was an interesting 15 weeks, to say the least.

Like anyone who enters a new situation, I went in with a certain level of expectation. I knew there’d be surprises and lessons learned, I just didn’t know what they’d be.

Probably the biggest takeaway I had is that you can’t make people see the value in something. I couldn’t make an 18-year-old girl understand that missing six classes would affect her understanding of the material, her performance and ultimately, her final grade. And I couldn’t make the 21-year-old seniors see that their final journalism class is about as close to real life as college gets.

Things I’d do differently

Fewer quizzes: I’d consider shorter and fewer quizzes in exchange for a test or two.

Stray from the book: It wasn’t until the end of the semester I started assigning work outside the course book. Students did better.

More guest speakers: It breaks up the class and give students a better idea of reality.

Those lessons are ones I’d sort of known all along, and I think it’s part of the reason why I didn’t choose teaching as a profession. There will always be students who want to excel and others who don’t (without about 17 shades of gray in the middle), but I don’t think I could devote my life to something that can be so simultaneously rewarding and frustrating.

That said, had I not accepted a full-time job mid-semester, I would have loved to have continued as an adjunct. Because just when you think you’ve reached your limit of the number of students who aren’t getting it, one of them finally does.

I closed out the semester with three failing freshmen and a handful of strung-out seniors who were rethinking their career choice. I was a little stressed, too. Maybe that’s why there’s such a long break between college semesters.

It was a fulfilling 15 weeks, and if I ever get the chance to balance that better with my day job and other work, it’s 15 weeks I’d try again.

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Shannon Wink

Shannon Wink is a Philadelphian and experienced reporter, editor, community manager and content marketer.

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