How To Become an Adjunct Professor
At the collegiate level, an Adjunct Professor typically teaches one three-hour class per week. That means preparing the class lecture, gathering and getting ready any supporting materials needed for class that week, preparing any quizzes or exams, and doing all of it according to the curriculum of that particular class. All of these steps might mean putting in an additional seven to eight hours of preparation each week for which an Adjunct Professor typically isn’t paid.
For Del Harvey, who has been an Adjunct Film Professor for nearly twenty years, the drive to teach comes from loving to work with students. He adds that for an Adjunct Professor, the job is “what you get out of it.” An Adjunct Professor also brings their own experience into each lesson and tries to help each student grow beyond their current abilities.
Harvey was interested in film from a young age. It began with a love for writing, which then expanded to learning about how a camera works. He went on to work in the industry on the west coast, first doing production on indie and major features and then working within organizations such as the Directors Guild of America, Disney, and Lucasfilm.
Harvey did not set out to become an Adjunct Professor, although many of his college peers suggested that he consider it. He was then approached by one of the Assistant Chairs of a film department in Chicago and invited to teach. That was seventeen years ago.
Education & Training
It’s best for an aspiring Adjunct Professor to get a degree in the subject they wish to teach. And it helps greatly if they can take classes focused on how to teach a class: how to interact with students and how to convey the message of the course, each individual class, and the lesson plan. Graduate students can often go through a teaching program at their college or university to gain those skills.
Life experience is also important. Beyond a degree, having worked in the field in which a person would like to teach, whether it’s screenwriting, directing, producing or otherwise, will also help them to become a more well-rounded Adjunct Professor.
Experience & Skills
Film is made up of many aspects, so there is any number of elements to focus on. Harvey’s background encompasses most all elements of film, from writing through exhibition, so his skills are fairly extensive. “I’m fortunate for having that experience,” he states. But it isn’t necessarily a requirement for instructors. For example, a really good playwright can learn how to write screenplays and then teach that skill to others. However, when it comes to something like producing or cinematography, it’s best to have that firsthand knowledge.
Says Harvey, “Practice what you preach. Get out there and do the work.” Even as an Adjunct Professor, having the experience of being on set or collaborating with others towards making a film will make someone a better instructor.
Harvey states that an effective Adjunct Professor is someone who wants to help others. Someone who wants to see others succeed. And someone who wants to continually learn about their craft.
He also emphasizes, “I think the person who succeeds as an Adjunct Professor is someone who’s empathetic.” Every student is different. Each person in a classroom has a different way of learning, so an instructor can’t just go through the motion of teaching. They have to care.
“It’s different every week,” Harvey says. Being an Adjunct Professor means that person will always be juggling their schedule because they will always be working on other jobs and projects outside of their teaching duties. For Harvey, that means working on his scripts, packaging films, working with friends on a nonprofit that helps young people learn about making movies and potentially moving forward with a television pilot. And that’s just what he’s working on right now!
All in all, he estimates that he puts in around 70 hours each week on his various projects and jobs, which include his work as an Adjunct Professor. Why does he continue to write, produce and pursue his other film passions? “Because you always have to keep learning.”
As far as the working relationships at his college, Harvey might occasionally collaborate with some of the other instructors for a particular class, but he most often works on his own. In his experience, being an Adjunct Professor means having a lot of freedom in his job to prepare for class according to his schedule while also following the curriculum that the school has provided.
If someone wants to become an Adjunct Professor, Harvey states that there are some early steps they can take to achieve that goal. While still in school, he recommends that a student try to become a Teacher’s Assistant. Students might also be able to work in other staff positions at their college or university.
As he has already mentioned, having at least a bachelor’s degree is necessary to become an Adjunct Professor. Someone looking to teach might also want to consider continuing their education by completing a master’s degree or doctorate because those additional degrees can definitely help towards getting Adjunct Professorial work. But most importantly, Harvey says, “Go after what you’re passionate about.”
There really isn’t a salaried role for an Adjunct Professor. If someone is a full-time Professor, they’re a tenured Professor and that typically means nothing changes unless that person decides to quit that school. The income situation for most Adjunct Professors is comparable to having a side gig, so would-be Adjunct Professors should be prepared to have other work or projects with which to financially support themselves.
Also, the income that an Adjunct Professor can earn will vary from school to school, as well as the hours that they are given. The unpredictability of hours and income especially means that someone wanting to be an Adjunct Professor should have other ways of earning money.
Unions, Groups & Associations
Harvey recommends that anyone who might be interested in becoming an Adjunct Professor visit the University Film & Video Association. This site is a great resource for future and current teachers. Besides the information available on this site, it offers opportunities for teaching professionals to attend conferences. At these conferences, potential Adjunct Professors can meet other people in higher education who might be looking to add to their college or university’s teaching staff.
He also advises that aspiring teaching professionals read the Journal of Popular Film and Television and The Journal of Higher Education. Both of these publications can keep Adjunct Professors in the know about the film and teaching industries.
To begin on the path of becoming an Adjunct Professor, Harvey has some tips:
- Talk to Teachers about their jobs.
- Go to a nearby college or university with a film department and ask to speak to one of the Adjunct Professors there.
- Email instructors—which means being able to reach out to anyone no matter where they might teach—and ask about what they do.
- Attend local film festivals. Festivals are a great way to learn about the industry and meet other professionals in it.
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“Whatever it is, make sure that you love what you do,” says Harvey. Adjunct Professors put in many hours and a lot of energy towards their teaching job, so to stick with that profession as a career, someone considering that line of work has to love it.
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
Harvey states that many young people think that teaching is going to pay them well. Being an Adjunct Professor can be extremely rewarding on both a professional and personal level, but it usually isn’t a financially well-paying job. Always have another way to bring in income.
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“Do I really know how to preach what I practice?” Harvey answers. While having real-world experience in the film industry is key to being a successful Adjunct Professor, an instructor must also be able to accurately and effectively take what they know and apply it to the classroom. Especially because students are only beginning on their path to one day working in the industry, an Adjunct Professor must be able to teach them according to their current capabilities.
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
A Teacher at Columbia College Chicago for over 17 years, Del Harvey has written, directed, produced and edited features, shorts, music videos, and documentaries. He worked on dozens of features in Hollywood, including Critters 3, L.A. Heat, etc. He has written episodes for The Rockford Files and Too Close For Comfort. He was head of acquisitions in the distribution department at Disney Studios. He worked at The Directors Guild. He was a part of the audio team at Lucasfilm/THX. He is currently the founder of Rough Cut Films, a nonprofit which helps novice filmmakers realize their dreams.