Writers Who Relocate: 12 Tips for Getting Teaching Gigs in a New City

I teach. A lot. I teach at writing centers, universities, online. I don’t have family members in academia, and I have moved around a bit, so I’ve gotten these jobs with a limited number of connections. Because I don’t have a tenure-track position, sometimes I have to assemble different jobs into a “full-time” job. Yes, instructors, especially adjuncts, are under-paid and under-benefitted. However, it’s not all grim everywhere. Some universities pay better than others (like these). Some writing centers (like Grub) make their instructors their family. Some people (like you) can make your teaching more lucrative by considering online and alternative-venue teaching. So, if you still want to teach because you love teaching, here’s how to do so:

  1. Ask. Ask anyone you know if they know someone at the place you want to teach. Almost always, someone knows someone else who has a connection. Ask them to connect the two of you.

  2. Do not rely solely on careers posted on an organization’s website. Those job ads are often out-dated or posted for the sake of formalities when there is already a candidate in mind. Contact hiring managers, program coordinators, department heads. Ask them if they have openings, say some impressive things about yourself. Contact these people in October if you’re looking to secure a spring position. Contact them in winter and early spring when you want a fall gig. Then contact them again in late-July/August when they are scrambling to fill sections they weren’t anticipating because of increased enrollment.

  3. Follow up. When I was a program coordinator at a university, I’d receive emails from prospective instructors, flag them, reply with a thank you, and forget. So, follow up via email after two weeks. If the coordinator says to check back in in three months, mark a note in your calendar to do so. I followed up with an ENGL department for 2 years before I got a teaching spot in the department. But don’t be an over-kill. I checked in once a semester (per the chair’s request). Finally someone retired, and I got a spot.

  4. Talk yourself up. If and when you get an interview, list all your areas of expertise. Ask about specific courses that the department or center offers that you’d like to teach. State that you want to make a career there so that they’ll consider you as more than just a one-course instructor.

  5. Show that you are flexible (and multi-talented). Can you teach in more than one department? Can you teach more than one genre? Seek out other departments at the same university so that you are not driving all over the place. At writing centers, teach more than one audience-type so that you can begin to make a home there. At one university, I simultaneously tutored, taught for the ESL department & the ENGL department, and worked in the office of graduate and continuing studies. For Grub Street, I taught for YAWP before I taught adults, and now I teach online.

  6. Always think of new courses that aren’t being offered. What course would you want to take? What’s your dream course? Propose it. Have a clear conception of it. Half of the courses I’ve taught are ones I’ve created myself.

  7. Got a course that would transfer well to an online forum? Almost every writing organization and university now has an online component. Look on their websites to see what’s being offered already. Propose an idea that is similar in format but unique in content.

  8. Work smart. Think about your goals. How will this benefit you in the long run? If it’s low paying but high prestige and you need some street-cred, consider it. If it’s high paying but low prestige and you need money, consider that. Think about how much time you actually have for prep, transportation, grading, teaching, and office hours. Divide your stipend by the total number of hours. Is it worth it?

  9. Seek out a mentor. Seek the advice of someone who’s been teaching there forever. What was their experience? How did they climb the ranks?

  10. Be a presence. Attend events and meetings. Hang out in the lounge. Talk to other people. Make yourself known. Let them see your face and know you are serious.

  11. Seek new venues. I’ve taught at libraries, community centers, yoga studios. I created  class ideas that worked well for their target audience (like journaling for yogis), proposed it, listed my fee (don’t sell yourself short), and showed up.

  12. Use these helpful sites

Happy teaching!


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About the Author

Nadine Kenney Johnstone is the author of the memoir, Of This Much I'm Sure, which was named Book of the Year by the Chicago Writers Association. Her infertility story has appeared in Cosmopolitan, Today’s Parent, MindBodyGreen, Metro, and Chicago Health Magazine, among others. She teaches at Loyola University and received her MFA from Columbia College in Chicago. Her other work has been featured in various magazines and anthologies, including Chicago Magazine, PANK, and The Magic of Memoir. Nadine is a writing coach who presents at conferences internationally. She lives near Chicago with her family.

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