My Teaching Story: Celebrating 25 Years

September 4, 2018

Sarah Elaine Eaton - 2018-09-03a-small.jpgThis 2018-2019 academic year I celebrate my 25th year of teaching in higher education.

Here’s an overview of what that looks like:

  • Years as a sessional instructor: 22
  • Years as a full-time faculty member: 2 completed. Entering Year 3
  • Number of educational institutions: 2 institutions for credit courses; 4 institutions for non-credit courses
  • Number of additional organizations where I have given workshops or individual training sessions: I can’t remember or count
  • Levels taught: Undergraduate, graduate, continuing education, non-credit workshops, teacher training, employee training
  • Number of students taught: A few thousand, at least, but I haven’t kept track.
  • Current position: Assistant Professor (tenure-track)

Like many academics, my career has zig-zagged. My first teaching experience was as a Master’s level graduate teaching assistant. I was a brand-new graduate student. I was given a class list and a textbook and told, “Here. Go teach.”

Even though my official title was “Graduate Teaching Assistant” (“TA” for short), I was also what is called the “Instructor of Record”. That means that I was officially responsible for the entire course, including developing the course outline, all instruction, tests, examinations and grading.

I’ve heard that it is no longer permitted for TAs to be the “instructor of record” and that TAs actually need to have some support and mentoring now. Back when I started, graduate TAs were largely left on their own, to do the same work as professors, at a much lower pay rate.

I remember attending a day-and-a-half training session before my first teaching assignment. It was largely focused on learning styles, which has since become a highly contested concept. Things have changed for the better since then. TAs (at our institution at least), get training and mentoring along the way. They are supervised by the Instructor of Record, which means they get to learn how to teach in a less risky, more supported environment.

The following spring and summer, I was hired to teach the same course again, but because spring and summer courses were handled by a different administrative unit at the university at that time, my title changed to “sessional instructor”, which remains the typical term for this type of appointment in Canada. This classification goes by different names depending where you are. Some synonyms include:

  • part-time contingent faculty
  • part-time lecturer
  • contract faculty
  • adjunct lecturer
  • adjunct professor
  • adjunct faculty

For more than two decades I worked as sessional instructor, sometimes teaching up to ten credit courses per year, supplemented by teaching continuing education courses, workshops and employee training sessions. I taught at any institution or organization that would hire me. I also took on other work in an educational context such as program evaluation and even did clerical work in educational institutions.

This year, I will celebrate my 25th year of teaching. Because of the patchwork nature of my career, no one has kept track of this experience but me. And even I have lost track of the number of organizations where I’ve taught workshops or short-term courses. I began teaching at a time before computerized HR records were kept, and everything was done on paper. Even I don’t have every contract letter or pay stub from every teaching gig I’ve ever had.

In 2016, I was hired as a full-time Assistant Professor (tenure track), for which I am truly grateful. Not long after I started in my full-time role I had lunch with one of my former professors from my Master’s program, who is now a colleague. I recall her saying, “You did it! Most people give up, but you didn’t!” She’s right. I didn’t give up. I love teaching and I believe it as much a calling as it is a career. I am enjoying my career now more than ever.

My curriculum vitae cannot accurately show that for 22 years, I travelled from one institution or organization to the next, sometimes teaching for three different places in the same day and the number of hours in any given day that I worked often exceeded what is typically regarded as “full-time hours”. It was a patchwork of part-time jobs that allowed me to pay the bills.

Twenty-two years is a long, long time to spend without job security, benefits or a pension. People who have had their full-time teaching jobs for a long time can’t relate to that kind of life. I have had colleagues who have had full-time roles for a long time share their thinly-veiled assumption that if you’re good enough, you can get a full-time job. That may be true to a certain degree, but there are other factors that can come into play. If one is not able to move to a new location in order to take on a full-time role, for example, then options become more limited.

Other colleagues have declared that “Sessionals are not faculty!”, dismissing their opinions, views or contributions to the academy. The underlying point in such an argument is that only those with full-time faculty appointments have legitimate status. Those whose status is uncertain or part-time effectively have “less than” status, which is neither credible, nor legitimate. But I have seen this situation from both sides of the table now: both as a long-term sessional and now as a tenure-track assistant professor.

As I celebrate a quarter of a century of teaching experience this year, I can say one thing for sure: Teachers matter. Whether you are part-time, full-time, and regardless of whatever your title says you are. You are a teacher at heart. You keep your students at the heart of what you do, no matter where you are or who you teach.

For anyone else out there who is currently working as Sessional / Adjunct / Contingent Faculty, let me just say: You are not alone. You work hard. You have grit and tenacity.The work you do is important. You are good enough. Actually, you are more than good enough.

I challenge you to share your own story. What does this academic year mean to you? What do you have to celebrate? What message do you want to share with others? What’s your story? I would love to hear from you!

#academiclife #highered #lifeofanacademic

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This blog has had over 2 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the Werklund School of Education or the University of Calgary.

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The Administration of English as a Second Language (ESL) Programs: Striking the Balance Between Generating Revenue and Serving Students

December 30, 2012

Critical Perspectives on International Education Sarah EatonI am squealing with joy to share this news with you. Four years ago, Dr. Yvonne Hébert, a professor of Education at the University of Calgary invited me to submit a chapter for a book she was co-editing with her colleague, Dr. Ali Abdi.

I submitted a chapter that focused on the difficulties managers of ESL / EFL programs face when it comes to the pressures they face to generate revenue for their institutions and focussing on students’ learning.

You would think that an administrator’s first priority should be to serve students. Morally and ethically that may be true. In terms of practicalities, the reality can be quite different. Many program administrators face great pressure to “put bums in seats”. This chapter addresses some of those difficulties.

“The Administration of English as a Second Language (ESL) Programs in Higher Education: Striking the Balance Between Generating Revenue and Serving Students” (pages 149-162) is my contribution to the new book called Critical Perspectives on International Education that has just been published by Sense publishers in Rotterdam.

The book is now available in paperback and hardcover:

ISBN Paperback: 9789460919046 ($ 49.00)
ISBN Hardcover: 9789460919053 ($ 99.00)

It may also become available as an e-book in 2013.

There has been so little published about the difficulties that English language program leaders face in terms of the moral, ethical and business decisions they must make every day in their administrative roles. More conversations and dialogue need to happen to help managers and directors make wise decisions.

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


Success Strategy for Post-Secondary Students: Get to Know Your Profs

October 7, 2011

As part of my Effective Learning course at the University of Calgary, I prepared this 3-page success strategy for university students to help them understand the importance of getting to know their instructors.

My students reported that it helped them think of their profs as “real people”. Some of them said it had never occurred to them that their professors were once where they were (!)

Feel free to share this with your own students or university-age children.

Read the full version or download a copy:

View this document on Scribd



Related posts:

Success Strategy for Students: How to Make Sense of Scholarly Research Articles

Success Strategy for Students: How to Cite Class Notes 
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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


Business as a creative force that can make the world better

September 9, 2011

The other day I was having a conversation with a colleague about how universities have made drastic changes in how their operational and leadership models in recent years. The change is especially apparent in the Humanities, where scholars are deeply, viscerally offended by the idea of the numbers of “bums in seats” as being an indicator of a faculty’s success.

My friend remarked, “It’s totally a business model!”

I cringed, as I often do, when I hear remarks like that. I’ve worked in post-secondary institutions, with non-profit organizations, with small businesses and entrepreneurs and yes, even with corporations.

I replied, “That’s not a business model. It’s the worst aberration of business. It’s a business model in its most hideous and grotesquely mutated form.”

Don’t get me wrong. There is no doubt in my mind that some businesses exploit their workers, their customers and anyone else they can. There are some businesses who mistreat and abuse their employees. There are some businesses who misreport their numbers and mismanage their money. There’s no denying that.

But not all businesses are that way. In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins looks at the qualities that differentiate good businesses from truly great ones. He describes the characteristics of both and then goes on to give examples from industry. It’s a book that many business people know well. While he talks about profit as being one key indicator of success in business, it is not the only key factor. In fact, as the author points out, companies that are driven purely by profit often never make the leap from good to great.

Collins wrote a subsequent work that is less well known, though equally brilliant. Good to Great in the Social Sectors looks at what makes an organization — any organization — great. He shows what he means by focussing on schools, non-profits and other social sector organizations, demonstrating how we can define success in ways that have nothing to do with generating profit. In fact, he says that business can learn a lot from non-profit organizations.

Business isn’t always the great evil that those who work in education and non-profit think it is. The problem is that they see the worst mutations of business practices being employed as leadership models. When that is the case, how could they think anything else?

David Cooperrider, known to many as the “father” of Appreciative Inquiry wrote an article worth reading. “Business as an Agent of World Benefit: Awe is What Moves Us Forward” (It’s available as a free download. It’s 7 pages and it is worth reading.) In it he talks about trends in the business world relating to ethical business, green business and corporate social responsibility, ultimately arguing that business has the potential to unleash wildly creative, progressive, helpful and powerfully transformative change in the world.

I sometimes challenge my academic colleagues to talk to their spouses and friends who work in corporations about concepts like corporate social responsibility, ethics, green business practices and how their corporations are finding ways to give back to the community. It’s surprising how many people in the corporate world volunteer for community events and are committed to practices such as recycling, pursuing innovation and being creative in their work.

Educational administrations seem to be adopting the worst aberrations of business management models, becoming more self-absorbed, more self-serving and less caring, while business itself is evolving past those models and becoming more responsible, more ethical and pursuing excellence and creativity more diligently than some educational institutions.

Ironic, no?

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


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