How I Started Teaching Part-Time

I get asked questions all the time about how I got into adjunct teaching.  The next series of posts will be about my journey over the last 11 years of being an adjunct instructor and the lessons I learned that can apply to other areas of life.

I graduated with an MBA from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota back in 2005.  That was a great year for me – I got my degree, my second son Michael was born 2 months before graduation, and I had started working in a sales role at my company at the time.  Things were great but there was something missing that I was searching for that year that led me to think about a side project.

The side project came in the form of teaching.  Why teaching?  Someone told me that I was good at making presentations at work and that I was a pretty good communicator – so getting up in front of people would not be a problem.  Then my mother and aunts are all teachers so maybe this was something I could try and ask them for help if I ran into problems.

I started researching options for teaching and learned that all I needed to get started was a master’s degree – which I had recently earned.  Cool.  Then the next challenge was finding an opportunity to teach – which at first proved to be a little more difficult.  I figured that there should be a way to land a part-time teaching opportunity where I lived – considering that there are 12 colleges and universities where I live.  This should be too hard right?

Well, it was.  I started by drafting a cover letter introducing myself, my areas of expertise, and my recently acquired MBA degree.  I sent the letter to every director of human resources at every school I could find in the area I live.  Crickets.  Crickets.  Crickets.

Then I started using Google to find programs that would accept first-time teachers to see if there were opportunities to get started.  Crickets.  Crickets.  Crickets.

Each time I wouldn’t hear anything I refined my approach and tried something different.  I was going on the belief that every teaching in higher education didn’t have to have a Ph.D. to teach.  I remember having instructors that didn’t have a Ph.D. or Ed.D. Or with any ‘D’ in their terminal degree.

Then I started cold calling schools to talk to someone about possible opportunities.  Every school I talked to said that they were not hiring non-tenured faculty and that I had to consider completing a Ph.D. to be considered for a teaching position.  I knew I didn’t want to take on a terminal degree just to teach part-time.  That didn’t make sense financially to me but I knew there was something out there that I could teach that a university needed.

After all my research, cold calling, and hard work, I finally got an email from a school that needed someone to teach computer application (Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Access) and business math.  This school has a program that addressed the needs of adult learners coming back to school at night while working during the day.  Perfect!  I thought since I had an electrical engineering degree that teaching math would be a breeze – which it was.  Because I love software and had worked in IT, I thought teaching an Excel and Access class would also be a breeze – which it was.

I started teaching in 2006 for the first time after months of work trying to find an opportunity.  What is the lesson?

  • Use what you know to find an opportunity to do something new and potentially profitable – teaching for me was an extension of my communication skills, my ability to make presentations, my expertise in technology from my IT roles, and my love for mathematics and software.  By using all of those things and putting them together, I was able to find a new opportunity that I could leverage my skills to achieve and put a little money in my pocket.  That is was a winning situation.
  • Have the courage to get out there to find what you are looking for – if you believe that you want to try something and the opportunity is not readily available to you, go after it until someone says yes.  That ‘yes’ may come after hearing ‘no’ 999 times but you won’t get to the 1000th answer until you ask 1000 times.
  • Believe that you can succeed – what kept me searching and trying to land a teaching opportunity is my belief that I was going to succeed if I had the opportunity.  My belief was so strong that I wrote, emailed, and called different people at the schools until I found one school that would give me that change.  That confidence is the thing you need to fuel your approach while you go through rejection on your way to success.

Next time I’ll talk about that first teaching opportunity and what I learned from standing up in the classroom the first couple of times.  Let’s just say it was a humbling experience.

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