My Rules for Thriving in the Adjunct Game


Superintendents can best contribute to the preparation of aspiring administrators by serving as adjunct professors in schools of education, particularly in the training of future superintendents.

During my 22-year tenure in the superintendency, I have taught courses in school administration at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.; University of North Texas in Denton, Texas; and University of Texas at Austin. This experience as an adjunct has been an excellent way for me to connect theory and practice. It has allowed me to step back from the day-to-day problems of practice and to reflect on what I have learned since completing my doctoral program many years ago.


Let me share some suggestions borne out of my experience with colleagues thinking about the adjunct professorship, especially those who may be doing so for the first time.

* Obtain board of education approval.

I always have assured my board of education that the duties of the superintendency would never be subordinate to my obligations as an adjunct professor. Specific language in the superintendent’s contract should address the issue of outside employment. Sample language is available in the contract template that is published by the American Association of School Administrators and the National School Boards Association.

* Consider the students.

My university students typically are full-time teachers or administrators. As a result, I have learned to be sensitive to the conditions they must endure—sitting through a three-hour class after a full day of work and having to compromise their job responsibilities by attending class.

Another factor I constantly consider is the week-to-week assignments I give to students. I want to make sure they are relevant to their work in education and can be completed in a reasonable period of time. I also recognize that job responsibilities may result in students missing one or two classes. However, I ask for advance notice of when they will be absent and expect them to get their class notes and assignments from other students.

* Don’t drift too far from the norm.

Although I have had considerable freedom to determine course content, I have maintained a degree of alignment with others who are teaching the same course. Ask the department chair to share the course syllabi from other professors who teach the same course.

As a general rule, I think adjunct professors should focus on how they can make subject matter relevant rather than trying to totally reconstruct course content.

* Draw the professors into your world.

Being an adjunct professor has given me the opportunity to work more closely with other professors. I have a much better idea as to who can help my school district conduct research and develop programs. I view my involvement with higher education as a collaboration. In any good partnership, both parties benefit.

* Remember your district’s practices are not the only answer.

It’s only natural your students will want to know how your school district operates. They’ll become familiar with the district’s culture and practices over the course of a semester. But you need to remember that every school district represents a different profile when it comes to student demographics and district wealth and size. What works in your district may not be the solution anywhere else.

* Maintain discretion—loose lips sink ships.

There are no secrets in our profession. Whatever you say to your students will travel throughout their respective school districts. And, even more importantly, you will probably have students from your own district in the class. So, by all means, be careful about comments regarding your fellow superintendents, your board members, your legislators and the university that has given you the wonderful opportunity to teach.

* Don’t underestimate the time required.

Excellence is in the details. All of the elements of planning a class, such as preparing the course syllabus, selecting the materials, determining assignments and grading procedures and preparing all of the materials to be distributed at the outset of each class takes considerable time—especially the first time you are asked to teach a semester-long course. I spend two to three hours preparing for each class session by reviewing required readings, preparing lecture or discussion notes, selecting activities and determining the assignment for the following week.

Finally I also realize that I had to make myself available to students before and after class—whether in person or through electronic contact. The bottom line is this: Because many of my students must drive a great distance to get to the class, I feel an even greater obligation to make each class period challenging and rewarding.

Douglas Otto is superintendent of the Plano Independent School District, 2700 W. 15th St., Plano, TX 75075. E-mail: