Palgrave Teaching and Learning

by Sally Brown (Series Editor)

Part-time, sessional and hourly paid teachers and graduate teaching assistants

University life is often set up in ways that presuppose its academics all work full-time for the same organisation, but in fact many nowadays employ half or more of their teachers on fractional or sessional contacts and use graduate teaching assistants extensively, particularly to teach first-year students, to run lab sessions, or to lead the seminars that support lectures given by professors. Attendance at course/programme review meetings, student fora and exam boards is often expected of all teaching staff whether they are full-time or not, and this can be difficult to manage.

In a number of nations, universities are committed to providing at least initial training for their academics. It isn’t always the case that this includes sessional or fractional staff, although many higher education institutions work hard to train doctoral students who teach. While for some ‘part-timers’ this way of working is a step towards a full-time post, for others it is a clear choice as a means of managing other commitments and interests, including working in professional contexts which feed into their teaching, so all merit professional support. Indeed in the UK, the Quality Assurance Agency in its Code or Practice explicitly sets out expectations that training and support should be given to all who teach, not just full-time staff, and this is mirrored elsewhere.

Many new to teaching, particularly if they find themselves on the margins of academic departments, concentrate so extensively on preparing the content that they teach that they have less time to focus on how the curriculum is to be delivered. Here’s some advice and resources designed to help you manage your teaching:
  • Seek out training to help you manage the practicalities of teaching and assessing, so you are not ‘thrown in at the deep end’ and left to sink or swim. If no training is available, make use of texts, including the ones listed below, to help you in your role.
  • Keep good personal notes on your teaching and assessment, so you can quickly pick up where you left off and can maintain momentum.
  • Find a ‘buddy’ among the full-time staff who will take the responsibility for keeping you informed about changes and other important information.
  • While it’s a good career move to be as flexible as possible, when demands to attend on days you are normally elsewhere, or requests to undertake a disproportionate share of marking become excessive, gently remind your colleagues of your part-time status.


Beaton, F. and Gilbert, A. (2013) Developing Effective Part-time Teachers in Higher Education, London: Routledge

Christensen, C. (2008) The employment of part‐time faculty at community colleges, New Directions for Higher Education, 2008(143), pp. 29–36.

Race, P. (2006) In at the Deep End – Starting to teach in higher education, Leeds: Leeds Met Press