So you want to teach journalism...

February 2, 2021 11:00

A typical pre-COVID classroom

Have you ever wanted to teach journalism but don’t know where to start? Your real-world experience is a plus when it comes to teaching a college class as an adjunct or part-time instructor. Here are some common questions and answers, and some ways to get started.

Would I be a great teacher? If you’re someone who enjoys mentoring younger journalists in the newsroom, you could be a great teacher. Students are looking for ways to improve their reporting and produce great stories for their reels, so think of them as an entire classroom of new employees to shape intro creative, ethical and smart reporters and producers. Great instructors are also passionate about teaching students “the right way to do journalism.” If you have strong feelings about the state of the industry, teaching is a great way to shape the future. Great instructors also have a lot of personal stories and anecdotes to share about their work. Students learn journalism theory from their academic classes, so they want you to teach them how things work in the real world. Finally, you must have a lot of patience. Student work is often rough. It’s “beginner level” rather than the quality you may be used to seeing. But that’s why you’re there, to fix problems in the low-stakes classroom environment before they become bigger problems in the newsroom.

What can I teach? Check out the school’s course offerings online before pitching yourself as an instructor. Mentioning specific courses you’re qualified to teach is much better than vague statements about your background. Also, highlight any specialized or unique skills you can bring to the classroom. Teaching things that may not be in the catalog, like social media reporting, podcasting, viral video producing, or covering specialized beats like politics, culture, health, business, or sports is also valuable. Schools are always looking to teach new skills that are currently in demand in the industry.

What type of degree do I need? While many colleges and universities require an advanced degree (typically a master’s or PhD.) and previous teaching experience for full-time positions, there is often a lot more flexibility when hiring part-time instructors. A bachelor’s degree and several years of newsroom experience can sometimes make up for a lack of academic titles when teaching journalism skills courses like writing, reporting or video shooting and editing.  
What types of schools are hiring? Journalism courses aren’t just taught at large universities with communications schools or journalism departments. Smaller private colleges, regional public institutions and community colleges teach journalism classes as well, often in English or communications programs. And while larger schools may have more openings, smaller colleges often don’t have full-time faculty qualified to teach journalism, so they rely on adjuncts and part timers to do it.

Where do I look for openings? Don’t rely solely on the school’s “jobs” website to find open teaching positions. Those aren’t always used to hire part time or adjunct instructors. Instead, reach out directly to journalism department chairs or program directors. They’re typically in charge of finding and hiring instructors to fill their courses and have a lot of power in deciding whom to hire. A quick email introducing yourself and talking about your skills and what you’re able to teach can get the conversation started.

How else can I grab a school’s attention? Even if a college or university doesn’t have a position now, they likely will in the future, so volunteer to speak to a class or provide feedback on student work. It allows you to show off your presentation and teaching skills, and keeps you top-of-mind when a position does open up. That’s valuable because adjunct or part-time positions are sometimes filled last-minute if there’s higher-than-expected demand for a course, or if an existing instructor suddenly isn’t available.

What’s the workload like? A typical three-credit college course during the fall or spring semesters includes about 14 to 16 weeks of instruction. Each week usually requires three hours of direct in person or remote teaching, done either once-a-week (a single three-hour class), twice-a-week (two 90-minute sessions) or three-times a week (three 60 minutes sessions.) Outside of class time, you need to prepare lessons, readings, and homework, create assignments, grade and critique student work, respond to emails and meet students one-on-one as needed. That’s a lot more time consuming that you may think, so be prepared.

Is there any flexibility in the times I can teach? Class schedules are typically set months or even years in advance, but department chairs can often plan around your schedule, offering classes on certain days, or during the morning or at night. Just be sure to check with your “real job” supervisors to make sure your teaching times are protected from sudden shift changes so you can be in class each week. Otherwise, you can do your preparation and grading when it’s convenient for you.

What’s the pay like? Just like in journalism, very few people get rich by teaching. On average, you can expect to receive between $3,000 and $6,000 per course. But it’s also important to know that part timers are typically paid per course, not per hour. That means your first semester teaching, where you’re creating lessons and assignments from scratch, pays the same as your 10th course where you have everything set to go. Also know that pay varies widely depending on the type of school. Major public or private research universities tend to pay the most. Community colleges, small colleges, and regional public institutions with fewer resources tend to pay less.

What help or resources are available? Don’t worry, you won’t be on your own, especially in your first class. The department you’re teaching in can provide previous course syllabuses, assignments, and lesson plans to get you started. You can use them as-is or modify them as you see fit. Many schools also have “teaching and learning” offices and formal or informal mentoring programs to provide tips and feedback. And most importantly, know that you’ll improve with each class you teach. Some things will work and some things won’t. That’s OK. It means you’re learning, just like your students.

Ben Bogardus is a former local television newscast producer who has taught journalism full time at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut since 2010.