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Home > For Principal Reps and Faculty > Resources > Adjunct's corner

Managers as Teachers

A Practitioner's Guide to Teaching Public Administration


James M. Banovetz
Mark M. Levin
Michael McDowell

Prepared by the Task Force on Local Government Management Education, jointly sponsored by the International City/County Management Association and the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration. Revised 2000.

This guide has been designed for the local government administrator who is or may be teaching a course at a local college or university.

Teaching opportunities for local government administrators are becoming more common as schools recognize that practitioners make good teachers. They bring a real-world perspective to education, helping students bridge the gap between the classroom and the world of work. Indeed, the accreditation standards governing master of public administration (MPA) programs require that such programs expose their students to professional administrators as teachers and lecturers.

Typically, the academic program chair recruits a practitioner, gives her or him a copy of an old course syllabus, and then lets the administrator/teacher proceed as she or he sees fit. This guide is intended to offer answers to the many questions that inevitably arise as the administrator tries to fulfill the assignment.

This document is not a reference source to the literature on effective teaching. It is, rather, a place to start preparing to teach. It focuses on the environment within which teaching takes place and tells its readers how to "manage" the wide-ranging questions that will inevitably be raised, such as:

    "How do I select a textbook?"

    "What kinds of assignments should I give?"

    "How tough should I be when enforcing deadlines?"

    "What quality of work should I expect?"

    "How many A's and B's should I give?"

    "How do I answer the student who wants extra credit work?"

    "When should I be willing to change a term grade for a student with a special problem?"

    "How should I interpret student evaluations of my work?"

The material in this guide is based on the authors' experiences, including more than 40 years of teaching public administration, 33 years directing graduate programs in public administration, and 45 years as local government managers.

The guide has been prepared and circulated by the Task Force on Local Government Management Education, which is jointly sponsored by the International City/County Management Association and the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration.

James M. Banovetz, Professor and Director
Division of Public Administration
Northern Illinois University

Mark M. Levin, City Administrator
Maryland Heights, Missouri

Michael McDowell, City Administrator
Creve Coeur, Missouri


Table of contents

Why Managers Should Teach

Many local government managers/administrators (i.e., practitioners) have, at one time or another, considered teaching public administration at the college level. Most give it only passing thought. Some take a first step by venturing into the classroom as a guest lecturer or by supervising a graduate intern. A few do serve as part-time faculty. Part-time teaching at the college level attracts practitioners for a variety of reasons, including:

  • To supplement income
  • To satisfy a need to share experiences, insights, and observations
  • To contribute to the profession
  • To explore academics as an alternative career
  • To sharpen management skills
  • To obtain feedback from students on ideas the practitioner is considering applying or using in the workplace.

Practitioners considering teaching are often faced with a variety of questions and concerns:

  • Can I be an effective teacher?
  • Do I have a better way of preparing students for the real world?
  • Do I have the time and energy to devote to a second job?
  • What am I really qualified to teach?
  • How will the city council react? The community?
  • How do I create a course? Do I have to, or is there one already in place?
  • Where do I get help writing a syllabus, picking textbooks, developing audiovisual aids, grading?
  • How do I feel about being evaluated by a faculty department head?
  • What if I'm not good as a teacher? What if I am?

Practicing managers are needed and wanted in the classroom. Who can better add a touch of reality to MPA education than those currently in practice? Accreditation standards for MPA programs require the use of practitioners in MPA education. The International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) have jointly published Guidelines for Local Government Management Education as a guide to developing local government-focused courses within a program of graduate education in public administration. In part, these guidelines state, "Part-time, adjunct faculty . . . play a critically important role. In addition to the perspectives afforded by their offices and experiences, they provide a mentor function that is crucial to student development."

Teaching is modifying behavior; it takes students from where they are to where the teacher wants them to be, facilitating the discovery and understanding of facts and theories while building intellectual abilities and developing functional skills. A good local government manager is already a good teacher: council orientations or briefings, staff training, intern supervision, and community presentations are all forms of teaching. Although practitioners worry about their lack of training or classroom experience, few college faculty are trained educators. They began by copying the style of their teachers. Teaching is a learned skill and many managers already have it.

Today's MPA classrooms are often filled with in-service students from a variety of public and not-for-profit agencies seeking an advanced degree to move up in their organization. These students are older, more motivated, and more experienced in the work world than the full-time students many managers may envision. These students want the practical skills needed on the job, skills that practitioners have. They need to balance theory with practice. This requires that the faculty be able to relate the textbooks to the workplace, illustrating by example and making issues real. A local government manager with five years' experience has gained a great deal of substantive knowledge. And for those who are still worried about the adequacy of their knowledge, the best way to learn more about a subject is to teach it.

While this guide talks primarily about teaching in MPA programs, other teaching assignments can be equally important to students, to academic programs, and to the local government management profession. The presence of managers as teachers in undergraduate programs, for example, is critically important as a means of encouraging more students to consider local government as a career option.

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Some Considerations

More than two hundred colleges and universities offer programs in public administration, public policy, or related fields. While the average MPA program may offer 10 to 20 courses in the catalog, the courses that are appropriate for practitioners to teach are generally those that emphasize practice rather than theory—that is, public budgeting, local government administration, personnel management, and supervision in the public sector. Full-time faculty may already be teaching these courses, but turnover, sabbaticals, and policies that allow research grants to buy faculty time provide opportunities for practitioners to teach. Managers interested in part-time teaching in an MPA program should revise any previous résumé to emphasize background experiences potentially useful in teaching and they should approach the directors of local programs, expressing interest and with résumé in hand.

The average course requires about 40 classroom hours in a semester; a quarter course will require about 30 hours. The time commitment for teaching each classroom hour is about two hours of outside work spent writing the syllabus, reading, preparing for class, acquiring resources, and grading papers. All of this, and especially the preparation time, will decrease as a teacher repeats the course offering in future terms.

Some schools require part-time faculty to maintain on-campus office hours. Commuting to and from campus also takes time. Many graduate classes are now taught at night (after 5:00 pm), and some schools offer a variety of weekend formats.

Instructional styles vary; students enjoy different approaches: lecturing, case study, class discussion, directed field experiences. In any course, there is more than one approach to the subject matter: federal vs. local, theory vs. technique. Part-time faculty are free to develop a style that is comfortable and effective for them and their students.

Any manager considering a teaching position should consult with the council and check the calendar(s) for conference dates, budget deadlines, meeting schedules to guard against potential job conflicts. Some practitioners have conducted classes after hours in the city hall conference room (with the permission of the council and the school). This provides a welcome change for students and gives the manager an opportunity to expose them to the environment of local government as well as to give them ready access to maps, documents, and other resources that can be used in the classroom.

Remember too that the academic department is also a workplace. The school has a work culture, standards, forms, a pay scale, personnel policies, retirement programs, evaluations, and a hierarchy. The departmental faculty may welcome the department head’s decision to hire a practitioner and view him or her as a resource, but in those cases where full-time faculty positions are being replaced with part-time teachers, they may see the practitioner as taking away an employment opportunity for full-time staff. A prospective teacher should ask the kind of questions any new employee would ask.

In addition to the personal satisfaction gained from contributing to the profession, there are, of course, measurable benefits to all of this. Practitioners teaching a course in public administration on a part-time basis are paid "market rates," currently ranging anywhere from $1,200 (too low and exploitive) to $3,500 per course per semester. There may be some room for negotiation. Bookstores give discounts to faculty as do some computer stores. For those thinking about the long term, there may even be a second retirement fund, albeit modest.

The Technical Aspects of Teaching

Deciding whether to teach a course is, of course, the first step. Part of the decision is based on the factors discussed above; part of it, too, should be based on a realistic notion of what the commitment to teach involves. Once made, the decision to teach leads to many decisions about teaching. The following paragraphs focus on the technical aspects of college or university teaching.

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The Difference Between Graduate and Undergraduate Teaching

Graduate teaching is considerably different from undergraduate teaching. Graduate courses are offered at a more advanced intellectual level, cover more complicated material, require considerably more work from the student, and have a different kind of student. They do not, however, necessarily require more work on the part of the instructor.

The material covered in an undergraduate course usually is broad and more general in nature. Undergraduate courses typically have a textbook that presents the standard contents for the particular course in an organized, structured manner. Students in undergraduate courses usually come from a variety of majors and typically do not yet have focused career interests. Undergraduate teaching provides a prime opportunity to recruit bright, able students to the local government management profession.

Most students in graduate courses have already made career choices; in public administration courses, they typically know that they want to work in the public service even if they have not yet chosen which level of government or even which service field (e.g., general management, public works, public safety, human services) is most attractive to them. In many programs, most or all such students are already working in a public sector job, either as a full-time employee or as an intern.

Courses Commonly Taught

The course a manager might be asked to teach depends entirely on the needs of the college or university program. Common undergraduate courses include an introduction to American government, to state and local government, and to public administration. Graduate teaching involves more explicit courses: organization theory, budgeting, personnel management, ethics, public works administration. Such courses obviously involve coverage of the material in depth and detail.

Although discouraged by professional standards, some programs offer courses that enroll both graduate and undergraduate students in the same class. Such courses usually resemble undergraduate courses, with some additional work (e.g. more readings, an additional paper) required of graduate students. In such courses, instructors should use different evaluation instruments (e.g., tests) and grading standards for graduate and undergraduate students. Care must be taken to ensure that the performance as well as the work expectations for graduate students exceed those for undergraduate students.

Generally speaking, practitioners should teach courses on topics with which they feel most competent. These usually will be courses that deal with material they confront in their daily activities. Courses that emphasize administrative methods (e.g., budget preparation, personnel administration) are easier for practitioners to teach than administrative theory courses (e.g., organization theory, research design). Practitioners should not attempt to teach courses in quantitative or analytical methods (such as statistics) unless they use such methods in their daily work.

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Instructional Design

Two critical issues should be considered in the design of a course: (1) coverage of material and (2) instructor competence.

The material to be covered is, first and foremost, that which is specified or implied in the course’s catalog description. The catalog offers a kind of guarantee to the student about what will be covered and limits the course to material relevant to that description. Most colleges or universities will be able to provide new instructors with syllabi used in previous offerings of the course; these serve as guides to the coverage that is expected.

Generally, instructors should emphasize their strengths. They should not try to copy the methods and styles of others; they should not feel bound to follow the course syllabus of another. They should place their greatest emphasis on the elements of the course they know best and should use the teaching styles and techniques with which they feel most comfortable. Some professors are most effective when lecturing; others work best when leading discussions or asking questions.

The teaching techniques used also depend more on class size and instructor preference than on level of course. A discussion/seminar format can be used more easily in an undergraduate course with an enrollment of 12 students than in a graduate course with 25 students.

Every course should include exercises designed to develop or improve specific skills, especially those of analysis, writing, and speaking. Individual courses should impart other specific skills: a budgeting and finance course, for example, should teach students how to prepare and use a budget; a personnel course might teach students how to develop position classifications.

Manager/teachers should also feel free to ask about the availability of supplementary teaching aids. Many courses use case studies, and numerous books containing such studies are available. Computer simulations have been developed as an aid to learning in some courses. The college will have a collection of audiovisual materials that might be useful.

Two key points need to be emphasized in course design. First, managers should feel free to use materials from their own offices. Maps, technical manuals, memoranda, contracts, and similar documents and materials provide excellent vehicles for bringing the real world to the classroom. Engaging department heads and other government staff in class discussions also serves the same purpose. Second, managers who teach must feel free to ask for help. Although they are busy, academic department chairs are typically more than willing to provide help when asked to do so.


One of the first tasks in teaching any course is to select the reading materials. Usually this means choosing one or more texts. Sometimes the sponsoring academic department has chosen a standard text or texts for the course. More commonly, the instructor will be free to make his or her own selection. Suggestions can usually be gained from the department chair or other regular faculty and from past offerings of the course. Publishing companies are always happy to suggest appropriate titles from their own lists and often provide an instructor with complimentary examination copies of possible texts. (Some publishers send books out on 30- or 60-day approval.) All publishing houses provide instructors with a complimentary desk copy of any text adopted for classroom use.

It is much more difficult to find a standard text for graduate courses. Some courses, such as those on municipal finance, may have a variety of texts from which to choose, but there may be none that approaches the topic from the perspective the instructor prefers. There are many commercial texts on government finance and budgeting, for example, but few focus on municipal or local government finance and budgeting. For local government courses, appropriate texts are sometimes available from professional organizations, such as ICMA. Other associations with texts in their area of expertise include the American Planning Association, the Government Finance Officers Association, and the American Public Works Association.

Some instructors prefer to cobble together their own text, drawing articles and book chapters from a variety of publications. This is not difficult to do if the materials can be made available for public use in a library reserve reading room, but copyright laws make it very risky (legally), cumbersome, and expensive to reproduce such collections at commercial or even private copy facilities. In addition, many university cultures expect faculty to use texts for every course and may question the quality of courses that do not have a text. Many instructors solve this problem by adopting at least one text and assigning supplementary readings to cover the subject adequately. Others may use two or three different texts—perhaps a standard text to cover the basic course topics and one or more supplementary texts to provide additional readings, case studies, or other material for class exercises. Finally, some instructors use a text together with materials placed in library reserve room collections. In larger part, especially when a number of the students are commuters, students prefer to spend more money on assigned texts than to spend time trying to find and copy materials in the library.

While students will complain about any size book bill, they are accustomed to spending $30-$60 for a single book, and $100 or more for books for each course taken. One advantage of commonly used texts is the availability of used books. Campus bookstores can easily locate and purchase such books on the national market and make them available to students, usually at 50-75% of the new book cost. There may be less of a used book market for some books published by professional associations because many students keep such books for their permanent professional libraries. Commuting students will tolerate higher book bills if it reduces the number of trips they must make to a library.

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Using a Syllabus

Once the core text has been chosen, the next task is to develop the syllabus. The syllabus is a written document that describes the course, specifies the instructor's expectations, and guides the student through the assignments. The syllabus should be given to each student no later than the first class meeting.

Once distributed, the syllabus should not be changed without prior written notification to all the students in the course. The syllabus becomes a contract on which the students depend, and busy students, particularly those balancing a job and family responsibilities with their student life, use it to plan their schedule for weeks in advance. Thus, instructors can be charged with arbitrary and capricious behavior for untimely or inappropriately announced changes in course expectations.

Course syllabi take many different forms, but the following information is usually presented:

    1. Course number and name. These are usually accompanied by a detailed statement of course content or purpose. The number and name are important within the college or university, but not beyond the campus. Higher education has no standardized course numbering system or nomenclature.

    2. Information about the instructor. This usually includes the instructor’s name, office location, hours when the instructor is available to meet with students, and office phone number. Part-time instructors usually make themselves available just before or after class to meet with individual students; they are not usually expected to make separate trips to campus for this purpose. It is entirely appropriate to limit the hours and days of the week when the instructor will be available to take phone calls; it is not necessary to provide students with the instructor’s home phone number.

    3. Bibliographic information on all assigned texts and readings.

    4. A course outline, including class dates, topics to be discussed on each date, and readings or other assignments to be completed by that date.

    5. A description of class assignments. A separate description should be given for each assignment. The description should be sufficiently detailed to provide guidance to students working alone late at night. Optimally, it should outline both what the student is to do and the basis on which the student1s work will be evaluated. A technique often used is to list "expected outcomes" for each week's class meeting so that students will understand the objectives for the week's assignment.

    A description of grading policies. Students are entitled to know how their work will be evaluated (e.g., whether writing style will be evaluated as well as content), the activities that will receive an assignment grade and be counted in determining the final course grade, and a summary of how the course grade will be calculated.

    7. An explicit statement of all of the instructor's policies. This particularly includes expectations regarding class attendance and policies governing makeup work, missed assignments, and papers not submitted by due dates. No extra-credit work should be accepted unless provision for it is made on the syllabus and all students have an equal opportunity to present such work. In the best administrative tradition, penalties for failure to follow the rules should also be specified.

Conducting Classes

The first two or three classes are the most critical for any course. It is here that class mannerisms are developed, the class personality is established, and the interactive patterns for the rest of the academic term take form. One way to develop good interactive patterns is to get students talking in the first class or two by digressing into course-germane topics that are provocative and controversial, such as affirmative action in a class on personnel management.

Many instructors like to ask students at the beginning of each course what they expect out of the course. The responses can act as a guideline for the instructor to make last-minute modifications to meet such objectives.

The style used to conduct the class is a function of several variables. Size of class affects the choice of lecture or seminar style as well as the use of oral reports, but student participation can be evoked even in large lecture halls. Some classes, such as courses in accounting or budget preparation, lend themselves to student exercises or simulations. Case studies are always a popular method of stimulating class participation. They can be modified for use in simulations, small group discussions, and similar mechanisms to draw students into active participation.

Some traditionally popular instructional methods are losing favor today. Lectures, still widely used and necessary, are increasingly linked with other, more participatory techniques such as simulations, case studies, team debates, and small group discussions. Presentations by students are essential to develop oral communication skills.

The use of "guests," other professionals with competence relevant to the topic under consideration, is still favored by many instructors as a way of "enriching" the learning experience. Guests might be asked to make presentations or just to participate in class discussions of student reports.

A generation ago, most classes were 50-75 minutes in length, meeting two or three times a week. Today, a growing number of classes, including most classes taken by part-time and commuter students, are two to three hours once a week. Such classes need to be broken up, not only by breaks from the work routine but also by changes in the pattern of instruction. Movement from lecture to buzz groups, to seminar discussion, to case study exercises helps keep students alert and learning. Regardless of the pattern used, student participation and attention fall off in the last hour of long classes, especially in the evening.

Most importantly, however, the chosen format should be the one with which the instructor is most comfortable. People teach most effectively when they teach from their own strengths-pedagogical as well as subject matter. New instructors should search for, and use, the techniques that work best for them.

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Student complaints about the volume of homework assignments are probably inevitable. In all higher education classes, however, and particularly in graduate classes, the homework assignments are the foundation of learning. Homework is where basic knowledge is acquired; the classroom is where such knowledge is refined and thought processes are sharpened.

Still, "how much is too much?" is a legitimate question. The old axiom that students should spend two hours outside of class for every hour in class—and still more time to do research and complete paper assignments and prepare for examinations—is still a useful guide. It is not unrealistic to expect that students will spend 5-10 hours each week preparing for a standard three- or four-credit course. Early weeks of a term often require closer to 5 hours; the last weeks of the term may require 10 hours or more per week.

Using Library Resources

In this information age, the use of library resources as an integral part of higher education is more important than ever. But the use of such resources is very much different than it was a generation ago.

Most importantly, such resources are far more abundant with the advent of the electronic age. Not only is the Internet a new and complex tool, with vast data resources that are neither regulated nor verified for accuracy, but libraries themselves have had their capacities expanded by electronic storage and retrieval systems. Within the last generation, the numbers of data sources, the varieties of indexes to data, and the evolution of sophisticated interlibrary loan systems have enhanced the availability of information.

Despite the information explosion, however, the average student today is not necessarily experienced in library use. Large undergraduate class sizes have reduced both the number of classes in which students have individual research assignments and the level of one-on-one research direction provided by faculty to students. As a result, part-time faculty can expect to encounter students who, on average, have less familiarity with the use of library resources than the students of a generation ago.

University libraries have professional staffs—good staffs—available to help instructors direct their students to appropriate library resources. Further, those staffs are eager to provide such assistance. They should be consulted, and students should be challenged through research assignments to develop their skills in using such resources.

Written Assignments

Except for classes with enrollments exceeding 100 students, written assignments should be a standard component of classroom instruction. These should be fitted to the level of the class and the sophistication of the students. Graduate students are capable of completing very sophisticated assignments and doing so in compliance with demanding standards.

Written assignments range from weekly case study reviews to a 20- to 40-page research paper prepared for the course. Written assignments can require the student to assimilate extensive reading and research or to analyze their personal experiences in the light of concepts covered in the course. They can be on a topic of the instructor's or the student's own selection. What is important is that they force the student to grow intellectually and that they be counted as a meaningful component in the calculation of the course grade. It is also important that such assignments be fully described in the course syllabus and that a due date be established for their completion. Except for extraordinary circumstances, individual students should not be given a time extension. Students who are not held to assignment deadlines are taught a very wrong lesson—a lesson not transportable into the world of professional work.

Increasingly in MPA programs, instructors are moving away from the traditional research paper in favor of a series of short reports or even memoranda. Such assignments are perceived to be more like the kind of research/writing assignment typically confronting practicing administrators. Administrators who teach should expect graduate students to produce the quality of work that they, themselves, would feel comfortable transmitting to their council.

It is also important that students receive written feedback on their written assignments. A grade at the top of the paper is not sufficient. Papers should be marked up and evaluated on the basis of both substantive content (e.g., organization, information, and analysis) and writing quality. Writing errors should be marked; instructors who fail to do so are to blame for the poor writing skills of university graduates.

One of the best techniques for teaching needed writing skills is to return papers to students and demand that the papers be rewritten until they meet the instructor's standards and expectations, for content as well as for writing quality. Writing teachers often maintain that rewriting work is the best technique for improving writing skills.

The easy availability of the Internet and of commercial suppliers of "papers" can increase the temptation for students to supplement their written work from these sources. Course syllabi should cite university policies regarding ethics in student work where possible and make it clear that unethical behavior may result in a failing grade on the assignment or in the course. Requiring many short papers rather than one long term paper may help to minimize the use of "acquired" term papers. If a part-time teacher has doubts about the authorship of any student paper, consultation with the program director is definitely in order.

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Other Assignments

Not all classes require an oral presentation from students, but MPA programs are expected and required to develop students' oral communication skills. Class assignments are the standard way in which this expectation is met. Again, the nature of the assignment varies; oral reports can be based on research, on literature reviews, on class problems, on case studies, or on similar materials. Oral presentations do not have to be lengthy; a two-minute briefing exercise can be very effective. As is the case with written reports, students need and deserve written feedback, and not just a grade, on their work.

Many classes, particu1arly those based on analytical and research skills, assign exercises for the students to complete. These are appropriate for other classes, too. Several simulation exercises are commonly used to develop skills in areas such as budgeting and planning. Some case studies, such as those produced by ICMA, are also usable as simulations.

Some instructors favor the use of group activities or assignments. They divide the class into groups of three to five students and give each group an assignment that must be prepared and presented, in written or oral form, either to the instructor or to the whole class. Such assignments teach students to work in collaboration with others, particularly others not of their own choosing. This, too, is seen as a simulation of real-world administration. Instructors who use such groups should require a work product that allows for an evaluation of the input and performance of each individual student; for example, a written report might require an identification of the contribution of each student.


There was a time when many instructors were abandoning tests and relying on other evaluation instruments. That time is past, and testing is again an important evaluation instrument. The number and kinds of test, however, vary widely. Large undergraduate courses often rely heavily or exclusively on objective tests: multiple choice, true-false, and matching kinds of questions. Smaller classes and most graduate classes rely almost exclusively on subjective (essay) tests.

The general rule of thumb is that objective tests take a long time to prepare and are easy to grade; subjective tests are easy to prepare but difficult and time-consuming to grade. The key distinguishing factor, however, is quite different: essay tests evaluate the student's ability to think and articulate about a subject—key skills in the professional world. Objective tests, for the most part, evaluate one skill—recognition knowledge—and have a relatively high "chance" element. (Any student has at least a 50-50 chance of getting a true-false question right.) Objective tests match poorly with skills required in the professional world.

Publishers of undergraduate texts often supply a teacher's guide that suggests test questions. Such guides are less common for advanced courses and rarely accompany graduate-level texts.

Undergraduate classes typically have one or two midterm exams plus a final examination, which may or may not cover the entire course. In addition, particularly in lower-level courses, instructors often use regular quizzes to encourage students to keep up with reading assignments. Some graduate courses use a midterm exam; more use just a comprehensive final examination. Quizzes are usually confined to skill-oriented courses (e.g., a course in statistics or computer software applications).

A good essay examination usually gives students some choice in the questions they may answer. A good estimate is to give undergraduate students 20-30 minutes to answer each essay question; graduate students are expected to provide more sophisticated answers, and so a time allowance of 30-60 minutes per question answered is more common.

Some essay questions are very narrow: they test the specific information that the student is expected to supply (e.g., "What are the key steps in preparing or revising job descriptions for administrative positions?") and can sometimes be graded with a key or answer sheet. Other questions are broader and seek to test both the student’s knowledge and his or her ability to think (e.g., "Discuss the major conceptual issues involved in the preparation and use of job descriptions."). Still other questions probe these matters and challenge the student’s creativity (e.g., "What changes in the preparation and use of job descriptions would you make to increase the effectiveness of personnel management? Explain and defend your recommendations."). Such open-ended questions are more difficult to grade, but they do a better job of testing the students’ level of sophistication and learning from the course.

The best method of objectively grading such questions is to grade all such questions at the same time. For example, in a class of 12 students taking an essay test requiring each student to answer three of five questions, the instructor should grade all answers to the first essay question at the same time, comparing the answers to each other and rank ordering the answers from best to weakest. With all the answers read together, the instructor can assign grades based on a composite of an absolute standard of what the instructor expected together with a relative standard that takes overall class performance into account.

Examination answers should be evaluated on the basis of both content (information, organization, analysis, and creativity) and articulation (clarity and quality of the writing). Given the time constraints of the examination process, content should be the primary consideration, with some allowances made with respect to articulation. However, poor articulation will be a hindrance in the professional world (even good ideas lose their impact if they cannot be communicated effectively) and thus this factor, too, should be reflected in the grade. Instructors should never yield to the argument that writing skills are taught and graded only in the English classes. Administrator/instructors who do buy into that argument deserve their fate when they employ college graduates lacking in communication skills.

Students usually appreciate instructor notations or comments regarding their performance on examinations. Some teachers mark tests extensively; others make fewer notes and discuss the exam questions in class. In either event, instructors should encourage students to visit with them outside of class to discuss their exam performances. Most students do not take advantage of that opportunity, but it is still important that it be made available to the students.

Providing a study guide for students prior to the final examination has two benefits: first, in a broad subject, it draws attention to what students should focus their efforts on; and second, by listing a number of issues or questions, it helps to ensure that students will undertake more than an unstructured review of the semester's work.


Grading is a subjective and uncertain process at best. It takes experience to gain a working sense of what students should be able to accomplish. Many new instructors have high expectations and grade harshly. Others become personally close to their students or fear low teaching evaluation scores from them and have a hard time enforcing demanding standards. They tend to give too many high grades. A happy medium is hard to find.

There tends to be a strong, positive correlation between the number of grades given to each student in a course and the quality of the final, course grade. As in the case of screening job applicants, the more and varied the testing instruments, the better the evaluation. Basing the final course grade on a term paper and a final examination does not provide the same view of a student as the composite of grades from a number of assignments testing a variety of skills and knowledge.

It is true that grade inflation has changed grading practices in the last quarter of a century. Grading standards are more lenient, and the quality of the educational process has probably suffered accordingly. On the other hand, student expectations regarding grades and performance are proportionately higher than they used to be, and this, too, must be taken into account. Students today, however, accept lower grades more willingly and graciously if they understand the instructor's expectations and believe the grading process has been fair.

Grading standards also vary by level of course and by academic program. Undergraduate grading scales use more grades (usually A, B, C, D, and F or some variant thereof) to distinguish student performance. Grade frequencies are likely to be, in descending order, C, B, A or D, F. Upper-division courses often have somewhat higher grade-point averages than freshman and sophomore classes.

Graduate programs use a different scale. While they typically use the same range of grades, the grades have different meaning. Grades of D and F are both failing grades and are given only in exceptional circumstances or to students who have not completed all assignments. Grades of C are used to signify passing but less than satisfactory performance; rarely will more than one or two students in a class of 10-20 students get a C, and many such classes will have no students who get a C. Typically, one-third to one-half of the students in a master's-level class will receive a grade of A.

But these generalizations will vary significantly from academic program to academic program. Some programs will give almost all of their students grades of A. Others hold to more traditional standards. University and program reputations do not provide a reliable clue to grading standards. Programs that argue that their admission standards are high and that their students are thus of very high quality and earn high grades are usually covering their professors' reluctance to make discriminating judgments in the grading process.

A newer trend in grading, but one not held in high favor, is to give grades based on the number of assignments completed (e.g., "To get a grade of A, students must do five short papers; to get a B, they must do four papers; to get a C, they must do three papers."). Grading policies that substitute quantity for quality in assigning grades are unprofessional and do a disservice to both the student and future employers.

Many students will ask for a reconsideration of their course grade. Unless there has been a technical error in the grade's determination, term grade changes are a very bad practice. The student lament, "I need an A [or a B or a C] grade from you to [fill in a reason]..." is never a valid justification for special consideration. Requests from university administrators or other faculty to give special consideration to a particular student should always be referred to the program chair before any commitments or changes are made.

New instructors should ask about the program's grading policies and expectations. They should ask for guidelines regarding the percentage of grades commonly given by regular faculty at each level, using this information as a baseline for plotting their own grading strategy and standards. Part-time faculty should seek to avoid giving a significantly greater number of high grades than the program average.

Instructors/administrators should support and encourage the use of discriminating grading policies. Such policies mean that the transcripts they will receive describing the academic performance of new graduates/job applicants will give them a more meaningful basis for evaluating the ability of the candidates for the jobs they are seeking to fill.

The use of incomplete grades is discussed below in Preparing Students for the Real World.

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Student Expectations

Just as grading expectations vary by course level and from program to program, so too do student expectations regarding the amount of work they will be expected to do. This applies equally to the amount of expected reading, the number of oral or written assignments, and the number and kinds of tests. Again, it is perfectly acceptable for new instructors to ask questions regarding these expectations.

Student feedback, however, should not be the sole source for this kind of information. Some level of student complaint is common, and that level may be higher in classes enrolling predominantly part-time students whose lives are complicated by a larger number of daily obligations.

Good teaching occurs most frequently when students are exerting effort beyond their comfort level; that is, when they are being seriously challenged. Good teachers challenge students to learn.

It is hard to discern when student complaints about workload are routine and when they should be seriously considered. Again, this is a matter on which the part-time teacher should seek advice from the experienced (both full-and part-time) members of the faculty. Ultimately, the greatest measure of good teaching is the level of respect shown by former students who have tested their education in the real world.

Distance Learning Technologies

Many academic programs, especially graduate-level programs, are now exploring the use of various distance learning technologies to deliver courses simultaneously to groups of students located in different geographic locations. As of this writing, these technologies are still highly experimental. Until more experience is gained with them, such courses are best left to experienced, full-time faculty members. However, practitioners who make guest appearances in such courses, or even who decide to tackle such courses themselves, will encounter an interesting, personal learning experience that will put them in better touch with another set of future technologies.

The newest and most promising of these technologies involves what is known as interactive television. Essentially the same as video conferencing, interactive television links students and faculty in two or more locations by both voice and picture; it permits participants to see and hear each other, interacting with the same intensity and spontaneity as they would if all were in the same room. The technology permits the exchange of documents, papers, and pictures; it enables the faculty member to show films, to use videotapes to record or project lessons, and even to integrate computer instruction in such classes.

A note of caution is in order: none of these technologies makes it possible for the instructor to teach a greater number of students in any given class at a constant level of effectiveness (quality). As is true with larger class sizes in one room, an increased number of students reduces an instructor's pedagogical options. There is nothing in distance learning technology that increases the ability of the teacher to read and grade more papers with the same effort, that permits the class to hear oral reports from more students in a given amount of time, or that overcomes the natural propensity of people (students) to speak out less as the size of the group increases.


The level of compensation for part-time teaching varies widely. Stipends paid can be as low as $500 or as high as $6,000 per course; the most common range falls somewhere between $1,500 and $3,000. Most universities have a set stipend, or a set range of stipends, that they pay, and these are not normally open to much negotiation. Because many professionals are attracted by the lure of part-time teaching, stipends tend to reflect a buyer’s rather than a seller’s market.

The same compensation limits tend to be true of fringe benefits. Most university employers do not pay such benefits to persons employed to teach only one course at a time. Some will pay mileage and perhaps a meal allowance for those who must travel some distance to teach.

While the local government administrator may view part-time teaching as a professionally relevant activity and legitimately as a personal development experience, members of the press and local legislative body are more likely to view such teaching as a second job or outside employment. Thus, it is important that such assignments be accepted only after all administrative and politically required notifications and clearances have been accomplished. Most local government chief administrative officers informally clear part-time teaching appointments with their mayor, president, or local legislative body to minimize possible future misunderstandings.

Support Services for Faculty

Most colleges and universities have a variety of support services available to full- and part-time faculty. These include, of course, full access to the university's library resources and computer laboratories and facilities. Perhaps even more important, instruction and technical assistance are available to help faculty use these resources.

Professional librarians have a genuine commitment to service. That, together with their professional expertise, makes librarians an invaluable resource. Most libraries have staff who specialize in the use of particular collections, such as the government documents collection or the social studies collection. Those staff are more than happy to work with part-time faculty, helping them plan course assignments that draw on library resources, use library materials in class planning and lecture development, and guide students in their work in the library.

College and university campuses today have computer labs available to students, and most offer short courses for faculty, including part-time instructors, on the various uses and applications of computers. Such training opportunities can be a valuable fringe benefit for the administrator who wishes to learn more about computers but is reluctant to draw on local staff resources in city hall for such help.

Most campuses also have computer equipment and facilities for grading objective-type examinations. Information about such equipment and the means of using it can be gained from program faculty.

In addition, colleges and universities also have audiovisual offices that maintain a collection of both equipment and films for classroom use. These collections are typically available for class use either without charge or with only a bookkeeping charge to the academic program. Part-time faculty should ask for a catalog of available films and documents and ask program secretaries for help in arranging for the use of such materials in the classroom.

Most university programs will provide part-time instructors with course-related secretarial services on an as-needed basis, but most instructor/administrators find it easier and more convenient to use their own secretaries for what little work must be done.

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Teaching Evaluation

Most colleges and universities today conduct some form of student evaluation of instruction. Usually this involves the distribution of questionnaires, developed by either the university or the program faculty, to all students in each class at sometime during the last weeks of the academic term. The completed questionnaires are then collected, tabulated, and evaluated by campus officials. The uses to which such data are put vary from campus to campus: sometimes the data are used internally by the university administration and sometimes they are published in a form accessible to students, but they are always shared with the faculty member, usually after course grades have been submitted.

Such data must be interpreted with care. Evaluations by individual students vary widely, from very good to very bad, in most classes. Interpretations are usually based more on patterns found in the data than on individual reports. It is also important to know and understand the local student culture regarding such evaluations; data are more useful when compared with those from other classes teaching the same course. However, unions sometimes resist dissemination of such information, so such comparisons might not be possible. Some courses (e.g., statistics) routinely get lower evaluations than other courses. Qualitative meaning should not be attached to evaluations until they have been interpreted by a department head or some other person familiar with the system.

Some evaluations encourage written comments from students. These can provide clues that can help the individual faculty member improve performance in subsequent teaching experiences.

Most program faculty are also willing to visit a part-time instructor's class to observe and offer suggestions for improvement. Sometimes, but rarely, such peer evaluation is required; more frequently such visits are made only upon invitation of the instructor. Part-time faculty should not hesitate to ask for such visits and counseling, but they should also feel no obligation to do so.

Support Services for Students

Most campuses offer a substantial array of services to help students with special needs, covering both personal and academic concerns. Good instructors are alert to the special needs of their students and should be prepared to counsel them regarding available assistance.

Most special needs identified by an instructor will be academic in nature; these might include remedial work in such basic skills as writing, oral communication, mathematical computation, and library research. Sometimes students with a special need require only counseling and advice. It is entirely appropriate, for example, for an instructor to advise a student to take additional coursework in English composition or technical writing to overcome a writing skills weakness.

Most campuses have testing programs with which to diagnose the needs of students with quantitative skills deficiencies and to help them develop a remedial program of study.

Most campuses also have student counseling programs to help individual students with financial, behavioral, or life-style problems. Chairs of academic programs can help instructors identify appropriate programs or offices to which to refer students for assistance.

College and university instructors do not normally need to deal with behavioral problems in the classroom, especially beyond introductory-level courses. A firm, friendly, no-nonsense attitude in the classroom is usually the best means of preventing such problems, but if problems exist and persist after a personal conversation, the advice of the academic program chair should be sought.

Preparing Students for the Real World

By far, the most common behavioral problems instructors will encounter in today's college or university classroom will be attendance, punctuality, and adherence to deadlines. Unfortunately, students who are allowed to follow sloppy personal habits with respect to school obligations are not being well prepared for life in the real world.

On most campuses, whether an instructor takes attendance is a matter of personal preference. To do so takes valuable class time and adds to the record-keeping burden. In small classes, an observant instructor will know which students develop a pattern of erratic attendance or habitual lateness. Whether the instructor wishes to impose an academic penalty for excessive absences or tardiness is again a matter of personal style, but if penalties might be assessed, students should be warned in advance, preferably in the course syllabus.

Like most adults, students will take as much time to complete assignments as they are allowed. Failure to meet assignment deadlines is a learned pattern of behavior, and it will persist just as long as the instructor tolerates it. And there is good reason not to tolerate it. Late papers are too easily lost; they are often not graded together with those submitted on time and thus might well be graded with a different subjective framework by the instructor; and, most importantly, they tend to create greater problems for the student and the instructor in the hectic last days of the academic term.

The best way to prevent too frequent absences, tardiness, and especially late submission of assignments is to make the instructor’s lack of tolerance clear at the beginning of the course, preferably with a written warning in the syllabus and verbal reinforcement on the first day of class. Students will respect a teacher who takes a no-nonsense attitude on such matters, particularly if the instructor makes it clear that this attitude is the same one taken by employers in the professional world.

The best preventive measure is to adopt and announce a policy that no late papers will be accepted and no make-up examinations will be administered without advance approval of the instructor. Valid excuses—and there are valid reasons for missing work—generally are known sufficiently well in advance that a phone call can be made and instructor clearance can be provided. Even a note left with a secretary demonstrates good intent on the part of the student.

Nonattendance in class is not an acceptable reason for late submission of a paper. E-mail and overnight delivery systems transmit student papers very well and at a reasonable cost for someone with scheduling problems. The use of fax machines is not recommended: the practice quickly becomes common and too many faxed papers effectively stymies other uses of the machine.

The same lack of tolerance should apply to requests from students for more time to complete their assignments, and especially for incomplete grades in the course for that purpose. Students often will request such grades so they can have more time after the end of the term to complete their assignments. There are valid reasons for allowing students to take more time, but excessive workload is not usually one of them. Students must learn to organize their time so that they complete their assignments on schedule. Employers and supervisors expect it on the job; instructors should expect it in the classroom.

Again, students should be told in advance, preferably in the syllabus, that incomplete grades will not be given unless advance arrangements are made with the instructor. Tests and assignments not submitted by the due dates, especially at the end of the term, should be given a grade of F.

Not surprisingly, clear advance warning of a tough instructor attitude on these matters will prevent 95 percent of the requests and problems, making life much easier for both instructor and students. Most importantly, such a tough policy better prepares students for life in the real world.

Sources of Technical Assistance

The best sources of technical assistance are the chair and the individual faculty members of the academic unit (department, college, or program) offering the course. They are the people who can best describe the local instructional culture, customs, and procedures; they alone can define what a particular course is expected to accomplish and how it is linked to the rest of the curriculum. They can tell you "how it was done last time."

They can help, too, with such matters as selecting a textbook, accessing technical equipment such as computers and audiovisual aids, and clarifying the expectations of students enrolled in the program of which the course is a part. Most faculty are very willing to answer questions about their program and assist community faculty.

Most colleges and universities also have a substantial number of technical aids. Many, for example, have facilities to videotape course sessions and to review those tapes with the teacher and offer advice. Most also have a range of student services available to assist instructors, including tutorial assistance, workshops on technical writing, training courses on the use of computer programs, special programs to help students for whom English is a second language, and extensive counseling services for students with personal problems.

At the urging of its Academic Affairs Task Force, ICMA has undertaken some informal activities to assist managers who teach. ICMA maintains a list of managers who teach and arranges a meeting at each year's annual ICMA conference at which these managers can discuss common problems and share their experiences.


The classroom must be linked to the workplace so that exposure to the world of work does not begin on the first day of employment. This is why the participation of managers in internship programs and as guest lecturers/resource people in classroom instruction is so important. But as critical as it is, that alone is not sufficient in most cases. Managers have a vital perspective to bring to bear on the professional education of public administrators, and especially of future managers, and that perspective is best imparted through continued intellectual interaction over time between manager and future manager. And that kind of interaction is most effectively achieved when managers teach courses in the MPA curriculum.

Managerial presence in the undergraduate curriculum is similarly important. The local government management profession must constantly compete for its share of "the best and the brightest" of tomorrow's leaders. Experience has demonstrated time and again that the best competitive tactic is personal contact between manager and student. That kind of contact is best achieved when managers participate in undergraduate instruction. It is there that managers can best reach and influence young talent at the point at which that talent is making long-term career choices.

Managers who teach are the profession's best resource for ensuring its own future. They are society's best advertisement for attracting a future supply of competent professional leaders for community governments. Such leaders, in turn, are essential to the long-term preservation and viability of grassroots democracy!

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