Student Affairs Instructors: The Move Towards the Classroom

I spend a sizable portion of my work week inside of a classroom teaching engineering students.

Having the opportunity to engage students inside and outside of the classroom has greatly contributed to my professional development. Sometimes I think this aspect of my job is more unique than most student affairs professionals interactions with students.

I have come to find that more and more SA pro’s are teaching courses on their campuses, which helps them maximize their roles as educators, and it also helps to bridge gaps between student affairs and academic affairs.

In fact, it helps a student’s overall development to have a student affairs professional also be in the role of an instructor. Typically SA pro’s are attune to transitional and behavioral issues that professors don’t always feel comfortable addressing or bringing forward. Most students don’t leave an institution because of poor grades, they leave because of social adjustment concerns instead.

Miller & Prince (1976) conclude that,

“an institution’s commitment to student development is directly proportional to the number of collaborative links between the student affairs staff and the faculty” (p. 155).

Here I provide actionable ways you can get involved to expand your professional development, create new relationships with academia, and how SA pro’s can directly impact student attrition by taking on an instructor or teaching role.

Instructing First-Year Seminars

I’ve found the most popular teaching responsibility by far in student affairs is teaching first-year seminars.

Student affairs professionals originally spent their time between the classroom and splitting up their time as tutors within the residence halls, referencing the Oxbridge model of education. Often, SA pro’s were tutors and, at the time institutions were largely residential, so it made sense to help form strong relationships both in and outside of the classroom. They also served in loco parentis, or in place of parents.

Developed first by the University of South Carolina in their University 101 course, first-year seminars are designed to introduce first-year students to college life and help them with academic and social transitions. Having a student affairs professional instruct a first-year seminar helps create a seamless environment for students. Professionals can serve as their organization or academic advisor and have the opportunity to have follow up conversations that often come full circle.

The course is often focused on developing skills in communication, critical thinking, community building, and encouraging students to become more comfortable with campus resources. Professionals who work in functional areas such as academic advising, orientation, first year experience, residence life, and academic support programs often serve in the teaching roles. Some first-year seminars focus on helping to transition veteran students or transfer students. It really depends on institutional type.

Supervisors can look to incorporate teaching responsibilities into first-year roles for direct reports. Often, teaching responsibilities can be divided up and seen as a retention strategy and encourages facilitation of one-on-one conversations with students to understand if they’re going to decide to continue for a second year, or even their second semester.

If professionals are looking for the opportunity to serve as instructors, they should seek opportunities to instruct these seminars by connecting to the offices or departments in which the first-year seminars are housed in, as well as receiving full support from their supervisors to do so. They have the opportunity to connect and engage students early in their college experiences and to leverage their roles and their services.

Teaching as Adjuncts

Student affairs professionals who teach serve as adjunct instructors to further their professional development, as they want to that additional experience and/or they want to teach full-time in the future.

I asked SA pro’s about their experiences teaching and some of them discussed what they enjoy most. Some adjuncts are teaching courses based off of their previous or current experiences. While adjuncts aren’t compensated well for their efforts, many professionals receive experience in other areas other than student affairs courses. Some examples of areas they teach include communications, writing, counseling, and health and fitness. SA pro’s can also ask to serve as an adjunct in a particular knowledge area for credit or non-credit courses in community service, service-learning, or study abroad programs.

For me, teaching leadership development is particularly important in helping students understand that leadership is more than just having a position on campus. It’s about teaching students skills they’re going to utilize for the rest of their lives.

Many institutions are now starting to offer credit-bearing or hefty co-curricular leadership education courses like Rider University, Christopher Newport University, and Monroe Community College. Likewise, some institutions have implemented leadership studies minors that professionals can teach or co-teach to gain experience. Topics in the classroom often include exploring various leadership theories and models, team development, communication, conflict management and feedback.

Bridging Student Affairs and Academic Affairs

Student affairs professionals who do teach begin to develop a greater understanding of academic affairs and begin to develop connections with faculty and administrators.

Ernest Boyer (1987) discusses,

“The undergraduate college should be held together by something more than plumbing, a common grievance over parking, or football rallies in the fall. What student do in dining halls, on the playing fields, and in the rathskeller late at night all combine to influence the outcome of higher education, and the challenge, in the building of community, is to extend the resources for learning on the campus and to see academic and nonacademic life as interlocked.”

Not only do we begin to understand what a teaching faculty member may undergo during their day-to-day, we are able to begin to find additional ways to bridge the gaps between student affairs and academic affairs.

Examples include co-teaching courses and providing additional academic programming and learning opportunities outside of the classroom. San Jose State University holds team retreats where student affairs and academic affairs can intentionally partner together throughout the year and measure student success.

In partnering with academic affairs, we ensure holistic student needs are met. SA pro’s are able to provide an additional lens when working alongside an instructor and may take different perspectives into account to help increase learning in and outside of the classroom.

Your Thoughts!

If you’re an #SAPro, do you have any teaching responsible in part of your role?

Did you take on an additional position as an adjunct lecturer? If so, what’s your favorite part?

How do you think teaching enhances the experiences for students and professionals?

Tweet your experiences to @THEKarynDyer and @HelloPresence and share your thoughts!

Boyer, E. L. (1987). College: The undergraduate experience in America. New York: Harper & Row.

Karyn Dyer

About the author: Karyn is a student affairs professional at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, poet, and social justice advocate. Connect with Karyn on Twitter @THEKarynDyer. Learn how we can help get your students involved.

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