How I Started Teaching Part-Time: Indirect Opportunities

In the last post, I talked about how I used course evaluations to improve my performance as an adjunct instructor.  I continued to iterate through each course to improve my teaching style and ability with much success.  However, my teaching opportunities at my first university started to decrease and eventually they dried up.

I started researching opportunities again and felt confident that I could find something that worked for me.  I knew that I could land another teaching opportunity; especially since I now had a precious commodity that I use to market myself – teaching experience.

While I was researching new teaching opportunities, I took some time at my full-time job to work on my public speaking skills by joining Toastmasters.  Toastmasters is an awesome organization that provides tools to help you write speeches for a specific purpose and deliver those speeches in front of the audience.  Every time you deliver a speech there is someone to count the number of ‘ums’ you say and someone to keep time to make sure you don’t go over your limit for your speech.

The Toastmaster chapter at work had about 13-14 people – which meant that everyone would get an opportunity to speak and a critique of that speech as much as they wanted.  I heard that in larger chapters the members would sometimes give a speech once every quarter or 6 months.

I delivered 10 speeches within the first year and received my competent communicator designation.  I also loved the table topics portion of our meetings – where you had 2 minutes to deliver a speech about a topic that was chosen at random.  I had a lot of fun with those opportunities and would always come up with something crazy to talk about at the end of the meeting.

This post is not about Toastmasters, but participating in this activity actually led to my next teaching opportunity when I didn’t have one.

One of my colleagues and dearest friends saw how I was progressing through the Toastmaster’s workbooks and really enjoying the opportunity to speak.  She came to me one day and asked me if I would come to her school’s alumni groups event and give a speech or talk about project management – my role at the company we worked.  Of course I said I would love to do it so she put me on the agenda at the event.

The interesting thing about this school was that it was one of the ones that didn’t have any teaching opportunities and was hard to get into to get a shot.  I thought that if I could get into that school to teach it would be an awesome opportunity.

Anyway, the night of the event comes and I’m there with all kinds of students, faculty, alumni, and staff.  My colleague introduced me to some of the alumni group’s leaders and some of the instructors that were there in attendance.

When it was my turn I got up and gave a talk on “Project Management: How the MBA Can Help You Succeed” ( ) and for 30 minutes I talked about this topic.  When I was done, the applause was awesome.  I got a lot of compliments about the content, my delivery, and how my presentation was very good.

One person that came and congratulated me on my speech was the MBA director of the school of business.  He said he had not heard anyone speak on project management like I did.  He asked me a key question, “Have you ever considered teaching?”

Bingo!  There was my opportunity to teach at a school that I had no shot at getting in.  I set up an appointment to meet the MBA director at his office at the west campus of the school.  We sat and talked for a while and eventually he asked me about my math skills.  He said “would you be interested in teaching statistics?”  I said something like “absolutely!”  I figured that between my electrical engineering degree and my MBA that I had enough math courses in my background to cover a grad-level stats class.

I started teaching the class in the fall of 2012 – approximately 9 months after the speaking engagement where I spoke on project management at the alumni event.  As an update, the school of business where I taught this course this year decided to change it and make it a different course with different content.  I was asked to help develop the content and teach the first run of the course later this year.

What is the lesson?

  • When a door closes sometimes a window opens – I remember when I first started teaching and how I had written those letters to all the schools in my area, including the school in this post. I did not win the opportunity to teach there using the direct method, but by giving a talk at the alumni event I spoke to the right person and eventually secured a chance to teach something I loved for the next 5 years each semester.
  • Don’t turn anything down in the beginning – when you are first starting out you have to find multiple ways to connect with people – which could lead to your very next teaching opportunity.  If I didn’t take that speaking engagement, it is possible that I would not have met the MBA director that gave me a shot at the school I didn’t have any way to get in.  Take all the opportunities you can to get out there, network, meet people, and provide an avenue for others to see what you can do.  You never know; someone in the audience or at the venue you participate in could have the opportunity you want but couldn’t get the traditional way
  • Be flexible – I remember my pastor saying that “people who are flexible don’t get bent out of shape.” When you are trying to get into teaching and to establish yourself in this space, you may have to teach something that you didn’t plan on teaching.  This activity opens doors for you but if you are only stuck on doing what you want to do then you may miss opportunities that could be stepping stones to the very thing you really want to do.  The MBA director had talked about creating a project management class that I would teach based on my presentation at the event.  Until that could materialize he offered me the opportunity to teach statistics.  I took the statistics job and continued to teach it while the project management course was developed and taught by another adjunct.  It worked out in the end because I was flexible and was willing to just teach.

In my next post, I’ll talk about how I got the opportunity to teach an executive education course using something I learned in my MBA.  This will help teaching candidates understand how to expand their opportunities and the thinking you need to find other assignments.




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  • Awesome Dave! Thank you, I have long wanted to get into teaching or training of some kind and have wondered even where to start. You have provided some great ideas.

    • You are welcome. I’m hoping to turn my experience and learnings into a tool that others can use to get into teaching. Thanks for the comment!