How to Manage Your Time as an Adjunct Instructor (to Make the Best Hourly Wage)

By Jesse J. Ruiz

When I received my first adjunct lecturer position, it was completely out of the blue. I was asked by a friend to cover a couple of sections of Basic Drawing and I said yes immediately. I didn’t ask how much it paid nor did I care. I was just happy to have a job.

I was a 29-year-old artist when this happened. I was asked to teach 2 fine art studio courses at a larger public institution in South Texas. I was paid about $3500 per course per semester and I had to commute 2–2.5 hours a day to teach in another city than where I lived. Each course met for 2.83 hours, 2 times per week and I had about 16 students per course (4 too many).

So how can you make the best hourly wage as an adjunct instructor, if you are given the rare privilege? As an adjunct instructor, you can’t negotiate for a higher wage but you can control the amount of time you spend on teaching duties. My advice on how to best manage your time as an adjunct instructor will be tailored specifically to studio art classes based on the following analysis; however, you can apply the same principles to any type of course.

I found that there were 4 main categories of duties: teaching, preparation, grading, and other (email, meetings, etc.). I analyzed the time I spent on various duties and calculated my hourly wage based on these numbers. I did not include commute time in my analysis. I then compared my analysis of each of the courses I taught over the last two semesters (Fall 2017 and Spring 2018) at 3 different universities.

Since I was a new instructor who had exposure to the harsh and demoralizing work conditions of adjunct instructors, I knew that there was a lot of emotional labor involved that I was going to minimize. By minimizing the time I spent on certain tasks, I was able to more effectively complete my teaching duties, spend less time on unnecessary tasks and avoid all the demoralizing and destabilizing effects of being an adjunct instructor.

In my findings, most of my time was spent on teaching, then preparation, grading and other. This was consistent throughout the 2 semesters I taught. But in the first semester (my very first job) I spent a lot more time teaching. This was because of the university’s structure. The drawing classes that I taught at University 1 were the longest classes I taught (2.83 hours).

Here are the breakdowns of the time spent on different teaching duties during 2 semesters at 3 different universities.

University 1 (Fall 2017), 2 Courses
University 2 (Spring 2018), 1 course
University 3 (Spring 2018), 2 courses

Here are 5 tips that will help you manage your time to make the highest hourly wage possible as an adjunct instructor.

  1. Know how much you are making and keep track of the time you spend on your teaching duties. Keep a journal, track your hours in your calendar or use an app. If you track your time, you can see how much time you are spending on your job and then you can calculate your hourly wage.
  2. Once you keep track of your time, you can then try to minimize the time you spend on certain tasks. Since you cannot alter the teaching schedule nor how much you are paid, you have to carefully control the amount of time you spend on teaching duties outside of class, specifically the preparation, grading and other portion of your duties. This means that you should careful set aside a limited amount of time to get all your preparation, grading and other duties done for your course(s).
  3. It is just as important to manage your teaching time (in class) as it is to manage your time spent working outside of class. Meaning you should never waste time in class. Let’s say you’re teaching a studio art class and your students are diligently working after you have given an assignment out. Don’t feel bored or as though you have nothing to do as you watch your students work. You should always be spending your time working on your other responsibilities during class time. I usually graded, emailed or prepared for the next class while my students were working.
  4. Use class time to meet with students and have individual critiques. This usually meant cancelling class or not meeting regularly in order to have scheduled meeting with individual students in my studio art classes. This works best specifically for art studio classes because individual meetings are used to assess and evaluate your student’s work and progress.
  5. Keep it casual and don’t stress out about work. The most important advice for adjunct instructors is to not get caught up in the emotional labor of being a teacher (read: dealing with teenage bullshit). In other words, the individual needs of every student cannot be fully met and satisfied by you alone. Instead, you should focus your energies on getting your work done as efficiently as possible. I prided myself on this and this helped me get through the rough times. I remained highly encouraging to my students, thoughtful, flexible and friendly. This was the best that I could do… at least, for what I was being paid.

Start with calculating your teaching time, since this is usually set in stone. Then, once you keep track of your schedule and get your numbers calculated, try to aim for teaching 50% of total time worked, preparation/planning to 35% or less of your total time worked and everything else less than the percentage of preparation/planning. Variables will vary greatly according to your class and university.

For example, at University 2, I taught one course that met for class about 1.5 hours per day, 2 times per week. I calculated the total teaching time (for the semester) to be 52.5 hours. So I managed to keep my preparation time to 36 hours total by keeping my weekly preparation time limited to 1–2 hours per week, depending on what was needed. In actual practice, I managed to get a lot of the preparation/planning done during class. So in essence, I was working less hours by working more efficiently. This is what I mean by saying “manage your time in order to make the best hourly wage”.

This is just my personal experience and advice based on one school year of teaching art courses. For a detailed view of the time I spent working, the hourly wages I earned and the approximations in my analysis, please see the link below. As mentioned earlier, the amount of time you spend teaching in class will depend on the university class structure and the class you are teaching. Please keep this in mind as you work through managing your time.

Best wishes as you navigate the world of adjuncting.




Data Engineer, Artist, Queer

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Jesse Ruiz (she/they)

Jesse Ruiz (she/they)

Data Engineer, Artist, Queer

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