A Part Time Future: Adjunct Teaching Dynamics in Three Parts

By Dr. Glenn Rand

As noted in the above graph, the age distribution of survey respondents shows that many current photo educators are in their mid-to-late 50s, with the median age being 52.

Any number of anecdotes point to a sharp rise in the number of adjunct faculty currently teaching in photographic education. The 2012 Mac-on-Campus Photography Survey goes further and helps us understand the depth of this trend. While such data can tell us some things, practical examples can offer a clearer view to both advantages and limits of adjunct positions.

Consider the following three case studies as a guide to successful approaches in pursuing a photographic education career. For a broad view, we have chosen a young adjunct at the start of her career, a mid-career individual selected for a faculty post because of his dedication as an adjunct and a successful artist who seeks to give back by teaching part-time in different venues.

Starting Out: Freeway Flying

After receiving her MFA from Brooks Institute in 2009, Amanda Quintenz-Fiedler turned to her network of contacts at Brooks for help in approaching San Diego–area colleges about teaching positions.

She also interacted with photographic educators in the region on her own. Rather than specifically asking for a job, she notes, “my interactions were aimed at cultivating my own professional network, but I was always prepared to present a résumé and portfolios if asked.”

Yet getting hired took more than just recommendations from known individuals. Quintenz-Fiedler positioned herself to stand out from others being considered for the same position. With knowledge gained from a Brooks course in writing for publication, she landed paid writing projects to enhance her résumé and provide a financial buffer for the small salary of her anticipated adjunct position.

After accepting a small teaching load at Grossmont College, she made sure to show an interest in the overall program by asking to observe other classes and being eager to contribute to faculty exhibitions and meetings, rather than just looking to support her art, writing or another agenda.

Her publishing opportunities included work on a writing team for the book Capture and contributions to several magazines. She has now authored two additional books, Digital Capture After Dark and Ten Photo Assignments.

As she started teaching, Quintenz-Fiedler expanded her network so that as other opportunities arose, her name would be in the mix. This led to adjunct positions at three other area schools.

“My key in handling multiple teaching assignments at up to four institutions in any given semester is time management,” she says. This is imperative when traveling between schools if the traffic is heavy. Beyond her commute, she manages her classes by assuring that each lecture, demonstration and assignment appears to the students as the only session she is teaching.

Quintenz-Fiedler is in demand, and there is just a fixed amount of time she can commit to teaching and commuting. To facilitate scheduling, she advises each institution of her availability in advance and, as her schedule grows, she communicates her commitments until her “dance-card” is filled. In this way, she treats all institutions equally and is careful not to overschedule.

Mid-Career: Adjunct to Full Time Hire

Garin Horner, current chair of the Art and Design Department at Adrian College in southeast Michigan, was originally hired as an adjunct in 2005. He was familiar and comfortable with the workings of the small college environment. He knew there would be a limited amount of photography courses available to teach, so he made it clear to administrators that his training extended to graphic design, video and other subjects that might be suited to future courses. Speaking both from his experience as an adjunct and now as chair, he makes the point that “at smaller colleges, it is critical to know more than just photography.”

To build a relationship, Horner made the department feel that they were the only important program on his teaching horizon. He exuded loyalty with a willingness to contribute time and ideas for improvements. Horner recognized that the department was key to his future at the college and that, in order to get continued support, his commitment was needed first. “They want to feel that they can depend on you,” he says.

Although there was no apparent full-time teaching position in view, Horner worked as though he was on a probationary assignment. He says of his experience, “I just became more and more involved. I volunteered time and proved myself.”

After two semesters, when a full-time position opened up, he was a known entity as a teacher, fit in well with other department faculty and had shown a commitment. Horner enhanced his value as a candidate to the degree that, even with just over a year at Adrian, he was able to transition smoothly to a full-time hire. Because of his immersion in observing the department as an adjunct, Horner was comfortable with the role he would play as the newest full-time faculty. Now, as chair, he views this as a good method for finding the best faculty for his department.

One important strategy Horner points to for adjuncts seeking to transition to a full-time position is professional development. “Use off times, summers or long breaks to polish your skills or learn new potential teaching areas.” Full-time faculty members are normally required to be involved in “professional development,” and Horner views this as a top characteristic for any faculty seeking a teaching job.

Supplemental Income as an Artist/Educator

Jill Enfield began teaching one class at Parsons School of Design more than 20 years ago. As a successful commercial photographer making a transition to fine art photography, Enfield had found her commercial work was depleting the energy she needed for her art. Therefore, replacing her commercial work with teaching seemed a reasonable option.

In addition to a small paycheck and some benefits, Enfield found teaching at Parsons to be both pleasurable and beneficial to her art. “Teaching is a growing experience for the artist,” she says. The learning environment is rich and encouraging, and it spurs an artist’s creative juices. As new ideas flourish in the classroom, working with the students benefits Enfield as much as the class. A critique can do more than improve the students’ work—during classroom discussions, the artist/ teacher may be gaining applicable insights to his or her own work and practice.

Over time, Enfield has learned how to function as an adjunct, whether at Parsons, when offering workshops or as private teacher. Most important to her approach is being focused on the next steps in her educational process. She segregates her various classes by prepackaging materials for each course, keeping a large rolling travel pack for each offering and making notes about items she’ll need to add to each pack from one class to the next. Because Enfield commutes from home to teach and does not have an office or controlled storage space at the school, these packs are essential to the proper materials reaching the classroom when needed. Being a commuting adjunct, whether across town or across the county, puts a high value on planning.

Enfield has also learned that being comfortable in one’s role as an educator is critical. She will turn down potential classes if she does not feel prepared or interested in the content. “You need to know your limits and abilities in order to give the students their money’s worth,” she says.

In hindsight, Enfield sees adjunct teaching as having injected itself into her life. She revels in teaching, just as she does in making her art. It has become both a way for her to grow as an artist and to gain the pleasure of helping others learn about the art form she loves. As a professional artist with a mastery of her craft, she “loves to talk to students and see the lightbulbs go on as learning happens.

What They All Have in Common

While each of these case studies addresses different adjunct career paths, they have some things in common. These commonalities are of particular benefit to those seeking adjunct teaching positions. Beyond having the required level of education or experience, you should cultivate:

Your Networks: The importance of a network to introduce you to open positions and facilitate being noticed in the hiring process cannot be underestimated. In faculty hiring, references—formal and informal—are very important.

Your Attitude:
An institution may be interested in your abilities as a professional or as an artist, but they are hiring a faculty member first and foremost. Both when seeking a position and as an adjunct teacher, you should commit to teaching as a first obligation, not as a method to support outside activities such as your profession or art.

Your Involvement: If given the opportunity to be involved in institutional activities, do it. Being seen as part of the institution and not just a drop-in will help in the long run.

Your Limitations: Understand that an adjunct’s role is to teach a specific course. Avoid promising abilities that you cannot deliver.

Time Management: Regardless of your level of involvement as an adjunct, time management will improve your success. Advance planning is imperative in the classroom, the lab and especially before interviews.

Preparation: Take the time to make sure that lectures, lessons, projects and demonstrations function properly. The concept of “staying two weeks ahead of the students” is not practical.

Teaching Versus Knowing:
Teaching is a skill set that puts the student’s learning needs ahead of the teaching process. This is far different from just knowing how to do something. A successful faculty member converts their knowledge and experiences into learning opportunities for the students.


So You Want to Pursue a Teaching Career?
2012 Photo Education Survey Results

Bill Gratton, national manager of educational markets at the Mac Group has produced surveys on photographic education since 2003. The 2012 survey data offers good news for those seeking employment as photographic educators, particularly as adjuncts.

While the overall ratio of full-time to part-time faculty has remained stable from 2009 to 2012 surveys, the volume of part-time teaching reported has increased, indicating that a larger amount of teaching responsibilities are being shifted to adjuncts rather than expanding tenure-track/full-time faculty.

There are several factors that influence institutions to increase part-time instruction. The three most common explanations are:

Diversity of Offering: Adjuncts offer a wider range of specialties, experiences and abilities than one full-time faculty member. The 2012 survey showed imaging curricula evolving in multiple directions, including more offerings in video, digital, non-silver and commercial lighting. With this variety, the likelihood of staffing these areas with a single, full-time generalist is not as plausible as utilizing several adjuncts with specific and focused skills.

Adjunct Appointments as a Hiring Screen: Institutions want to hire known quantities with proven teaching abilities. It is far less risky to hire a part-time instructor to determine the fit within the department or program. Many résumés show accomplishments but are not an adequate gauge of performance or compatibility within a particular teaching environment.

Pure Economics: This is the bottom line in hiring adjuncts over full-time faculty. Part-time instructors are far less expensive—in terms of salary base and included benefits, health care, retirement and so on.

Another Factor—Graying Faculty: The points above define parameters that institutions consider in seeking adjunct faculty—but is there a need? Based on survey data, the most noticeable factor pointing to future hiring of photo educators is a median age of 52 years among current faculty, as seen in the cluster graph below mapping the current age range of photo educators. As older faculty retire, new educators will be hired to fill an apparently stable enrollment in photography courses.

Additional data with a graphic representation of responses from the 2012 Photo Education Survey can be viewed in this 27-page PDF document. A comprehensive version of survey results and analysis can also be found on the MAC-On-Campus Web site or from Bill Gratton, National Manager of Educational Markets for the MAC Group.



PDN August 2016: The Fine-Art Photography Issue



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