How Much A University Sessional Instructor Gets Paid vs. How Much They Work

As you may recall from all my complaining about how busy I was last semester, I was teaching a new (to me) university course. Teaching a course that you’ve never taught before is an *insane* amount of work, because you have to:

  • develop the course itself – what are the learning objectives? what’s the scope of the material you will cover?
  • create the assignments
  • create grading rubrics so you know how you will grade the assignments and can share that with your students1
  • create your lecture notes
  • create the slides to go with your lecture notes
  • create in-class activities to make the learning more active

And that’s all (ideally) before classes even start2! Once classes start you do things like:

  • teach your class (for 3 hours per week in this case)
  • mark all the assignments3
  • tweak lecture material4
  • arrange some guest speakers on a topic of interest to the class5
  • hold office hours to answer students’ questions6

Because I’m a nerd – and also a bit of a glutton for punishment – I decided to see just how much work it was to teach this course that I’d never taught before. I tracked my hours using Time Edition, just like I did for the hours I spent working on my MBA.

Here’s how much time I spent on the course:

Activity Time Spent (in hours)
Teaching in class 36.0
Planning (creating syllabus, developing assignments & rubrics, developing lecture materials, etc.) 116.9
Communicating with Students (email, office hours) 7.9
Marking 33.6
Total 192.4

That work was happened between the end of June 2015, when I was offered the sessional instructor position to teach the class, until early December 2015, when I finished marking the student’s final assignments. Here’s what the break down of hours looked like by month:

Hours spent teaching a new course

However.

As a sessional instructor, I’m not actually paid until the course starts7. And even then I’m only paid, in this case, for 5.5 hours per week8. The semester is 13 weeks long, which means that I was paid for 71.5 hours, when I actually worked 192.4 hours. Put another way, I worked 122.9 unpaid hours or nearly 4x more hours than I was paid for.

Now, I went into the course knowing that I’d end up doing a lot more work than I’d be paid for, but it’s a little bit shocking to see just how much that ended up being.

  1. I made a mistake this past semester where I put the grading rubric on the end of the Word document that contained the assignment instructions, but when I pdf’d the file, it cut off the rubric (it seems that because the rubric were on pages in landscape instead of portrait orientation, the program I was using decided to not include it in the pdf), so the students didn’t actually get to see the rubric before they handed in the first assignment! Lesson learned for me – always check the whole file after you pdf something! []
  2. I say “ideally” because I didn’t have all my lecture materials created before the course started. This meant I was creating some of my lecture material during the semester, while I was teaching. I knew what I was going to cover before classes started, but hadn’t written it all up as lecture notes or made all my slides []
  3. Unless you have a teaching assistant. Which I did not. []
  4. for example, if something exciting happens in the news related to your topic that you want to share with the class, or you happen to read something new related to your topic, or students ask you some really excellent questions one week and you do some research to provide them with answers the next week []
  5. In my case, my students had lots of great questions about being an external evaluator, but since I’ve only ever been an internal evaluator, I decided to bring in a few people I know who work as external evaluators as they could give much better answers to those questions than I could. []
  6. In my case, I arranged to meet some students via Skype like a sort of “virtual” office hour, since I was only ever on campus for class. []
  7. In fact, I had to go through a lot of hoop jumping just to get access to the library in order to do my unpaid preparatory work – when I went to the library they told me that I’m not an instructor until the course starts and looked at me like I was crazy when I suggested that I needed to plan my course before the first day of classes. []
  8. 3 hours of teaching and 2.5 hours of work outside the classroom – preparation, office hours, emailing with students, marking, etc. []