After finishing my MA in Rhetoric, Composition, and Professional Communication at Iowa State University, I accepted an offer to stay on as a lecturer in the English department. As a lecturer, I enjoy the privileged ability to focus my efforts solely on teaching. This can be both a blessing and a curse; a blessing because of the opportunity to hone my pedagogical skills and methods, and a curse because I find myself pining for those graduate school discussions that were so stimulating that they gave me a headache. With that, it truly is a simpler life to just wear the instructor hat instead of juggling a second, student hat as well.
We, as veterans of the RCPC and RPC programs, have a unique blend of perspectives and experiences that fit nicely with the undergraduate curriculum at Iowa State University. From ISUComm Foundation courses to Advanced Communication courses, we have the background in audience, rhetorical modes of persuasion, writing genre, etc. to be able to approach these courses practically and emphatically. Accepting a lecturing position at Iowa State will likely land you a role teaching one or more of the courses in these curricula. Below I outline three things I wish I had known before becoming a lecturer.
First: You should expand your teaching repertoire early
While you’re still a graduate student, make time in your schedule to take English 504! We all took English 500, and learned the invaluable lessons from our mentors about teaching in higher education. So why on Earth would you skip out on an opportunity to work with another experienced mentor to explore and discuss the Advanced Communication courses that are in line with our area of expertise? I wish that I had the foresight to have taken English 504 while I was still in school. Don’t miss that opportunity!
Second: You must be flexible and helpful
One of the most important lessons that I’ve learned in my short time as a lecturer is that there is little room for schedule rigidity. Some weeks, you are absolutely swamped and feel like you’re drowning in 96 papers. Other times, you have little else to do besides course preparation. Flexibility is a key to lecturing. Your flexibility should also carry over into your willingness to help where needed. If you gain a reputation as someone others can turn to when the need arises, you will be rewarded.
The week before the spring semester started, I received an email inquiring if I’d be willing to trade teaching schedules with another lecturer. The trade required that I give up three sections of English 302 and one section of English 150, in exchange for four sections of English 302. The trade also switched my schedule from MWF to TTH. Because I was flexible with my schedule and willing to help the department out of a dilemma, I undoubtedly got the better end of that deal.
Third: You need to be comfortable with uncertainty
The uncertainty of a lecturing position is the biggest downside. Unfortunately, lecturing positions are contract-based. (If you were unaware of that beforehand, I apologize for being the bearer of bad news.) Contract-based appointments basically mean that you might get an offer for just one semester with no guarantee that a second offer will be extended to you.
With the turbulent political climate and state budget modifications, a real possibility exists for lecturers that we won’t be asked back to teach. However, my advice to remain flexible and helpful whenever it is asked of you carries into this domain. That flexible and helpful reputation makes you memorable for good reasons to the people who really matter. Helpful ones usually stick around.
My original contract with the ISU English Department was for one semester, but half way through that semester, I received an offer to extend it for three additional semesters. Like I said, the helpful ones tend to stick around. I also know of several lecturers in the English Department lecturers with decades of experience, so don’t let the uncertainty of the position scare you away.
Lecturing is very rewarding if you are interested in teaching, or if you are on the fence about getting a PhD or entering industry. I hope the lessons I have relayed help you decide your future plans. Feel free to reach out to me via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have any other questions about lecturing!
Best of luck!
Allison graduated from the RCPC program in 2016. She is currently a lecturer at Iowa State University. When she’s not grading or helping students produce their best writing, you can find her at home with her dog (Frankie) and husband (Brandon). Allison enjoys all things related to dogs, video games, and feminism.