Diary of a Visiting Assistant Professor, week 3: a brief post, with bullet points

As I mentioned earlier, I missed the week-long orientation for new faculty. But the college is committed to helping us transition, so we have periodic meetings throughout the semester, the first of which was this week. In addition to meeting the other new arrivals — all from different departments — I got to hear the kinds of questions they raised, and things that weren’t covered, or weren’t sufficiently covered, in orientation. Since there were common themes, this seems a good opportunity to list some of the questions people wish they had asked. So, some tips:

  • Find out when your first paycheck will arrive. Because the fiscal year at most schools begins September 1st, you might not get paid until September 31st, even though you might have started teaching in August. Most schools, I’m told, will offer an advance if you request one — but you might have to ask.
  • Get to know the administrative software. Nobody likes converting to a new system, especially since (in my experience at least), management software can be rather opaque. But you’ll need to know how to check the enrollment and location of your courses, submit HR paperwork, check pay stubs, etc. I taught for a whole week before I realized I could see pictures of my students — immensely helpful when learning names.
  • Know the enrollment policies, and where your course fits into the curriculum. Probably students at every college change their courses around during the first couple weeks. You should be prepared for this. Is your course required for majors? Does it fulfill a general education requirement? Are there prerequisites? This will help in course design, of course, but is also important administratively.
  • Check your classrooms. This is good advice for everyone at the beginning of the semester. You’ll want to know if you have a projector, and the kind of hook-up you will need; what kind of chairs the room has, and if you need to rearrange them; whether you have a chalkboard or a whiteboard, and if the room already has chalk or markers. Know the number for classroom IT support, and whether there is a phone in the room (so you don’t have to borrow a student’s cell phone on the first day).
  • Know your department administrative assistant, and make use of the support you are given. As a graduate student I got used to doing certain things for myself: making copies, dropping off campus mail, etc. As a VAP, though, it’s actually more convenient for everyone if I ask for help. My office is right next to the main office, and the work study students are phenomenal, and know much more than I do about which copier to use for which task.
  • Know your job perks. Do you have access to the gym or swimming pool? Can your spouse or partner use it, too? Do you have to pay for a parking pass? Do you get a discount at campus restaurants or dining halls? Little things can go a long way.

Are there other questions you wish you had asked when you first started? I’d love to hear them.


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