Online Teaching Blog

Best practices, tips & tricks, and career advice—served up fresh

How do you know it’s time to quit an online teaching job?

How do you know it’s time to quit an online teaching job?

by Sharon Jumper, JD
May 28, 2017

A lot of time and effort is spent on obtaining an online teaching job. In an increasingly competitive job market, we are often reticent to leave an online teaching job that we don’t like due to fear of being unable to replace the income. We also all have bad days where we wonder if it’s time to leave teaching altogether.

This article will discuss three foundational premises of careers in higher education and then explore the introspection that should occur not only when you’re beginning to have doubts about staying, but also whenever you receive a new teaching contract.

First, it is important to note that the world of higher education is much smaller than you might think it is. If you’ve taught somewhere, deans, department chairs, and hiring managers often will know someone who knows you; if not, they will know someone who knows someone who knows you. If you stay too long at an institution in a job where you are unhappy, your performance and attitude may decline – and these people will let others know. Remember, future employers aren’t limited to just speaking to the colleagues that view you favorably who you put on your reference list – the fine print in your contingent offer allows them to make inquiry of others who know you and your work habits.

Second, each of us who is credentialed and qualified to teach is also able to do other things in our professional lives. If this were not the case, we wouldn’t be eligible to teach. Don’t lose sight of this fact. You always have options. The tales of woe that you read about adjuncts living in cars or being too poor to bury are the result of people suffering from tunnel vision. Always look for opportunities on the horizon. These options may not be what you planned, but life has a funny way of working out when you’re truly trying to do the right thing. Take the leap of faith.

Third, keep in mind that institutions view adjuncts more as vendors than as employees. They haven’t hired you full-time because they don’t want to make that level of commitment to you for whatever reason. When even the Chronicle of Higher Education has published articles comparing academia to a “bad boyfriend,” it’s truly not you, it’s them - cf. Steffensen (2014), Keenan (2014). This gives you the full latitude to treat them as a “client” rather than an employer. In colloquial terms, you’re not married, you’re “friends with benefits.” How, then, do we handle the relationships with institutions where we adjunct? You give each school your full attention and respect when you’re in the classroom, but don’t get clingy or desperate. You owe them no more fealty than that which they owe to you.

So…how do you know when it’s time to quit an online teaching job? There are many articles out there that discuss this issue for jobs in general. Caprino (2017) has a succinct list of signs that tell you it’s time to quit:

  • #1: You’re unhappy most of every day doing this work.
  • #2: The environment is tainted with extreme toxicity, including your boss and colleagues.
  • #3: The skills that you’ve been hired to use for this job aren’t a fit for what you’re good at or enjoy.
  • #4: You believe deep down that you’re meant for better, bigger, and more thrilling things.
  • #5: The outcomes that you’re working toward feel meaningless or negative to you (p.1-2).

Cho (2017) has a list of 7 signs that it’s time to leave sooner rather than later – this one will ring true if you’re at an institution that is floundering:

  • #1: You’re living the status quo.
  • #2: You don’t get feedback.
  • #3: You’re not learning.
  • #4: There’s a constant exodus.
  • #5: There’s regular restructuring.
  • #6: Headhunters want you.
  • #7: It feels like it’s time to go.

Miller (2012) offers an academia-specific list of how to know it’s time to go:

  • #1: Always doing more with less.
  • #2: Horrible leadership.
  • #3: You’re not making a difference.
  • #4: The slow punishment of boredom.
  • #5: No room at the top.

Each of these lists provide issues we should consider when deciding whether to stay or go…or whether to accept an offer each time we receive one. There are a few additional issues that I would add that are specific to online adjunct work:

  • #1: High turnover of faculty
  • #2 You procrastinate in responding to student emails, calls, or texts.
  • #3: You get a feeling of “ugh” every time that you login to your online classroom or school email account.
  • #4: You’re “going through the motions” in discussions or giving feedback because you lack connection to the students, feel that the assessments are meaningless, and/or aren’t being paid what you should be paid for the amount of work that you perform.
  • #5: The institution has lagging enrollment and is requesting that you take lower pay to teach a course (pay per student, independent study, whatever they call a low enrollment section).
  • #6: You’re being asked to do more work or training with no additional compensation.
  • #7: You begin to resent the students.
  • #8: You don’t feel valued by the institution.
  • #9: You don’t agree with the program, curriculum, or policies.
  • #10: You feel like a customer service agent rather than a credentialed professor.

Keep in mind that you need not have “all” of the items in any of these lists to justify a decision to leave – any one of them is a good reason to quit or decline an offer. There are few things worse in life than continuing to work in a job that you resent or hate. If you stay too long once you’re unhappy, your performance and attitude will suffer, and this will have a negative impact on your ability to pursue future opportunities. Even worse, you may simply give up, stay, and be miserable until you’re either fired or no longer receiving offers.

When you’ve made up your mind that it’s time to move on, do that – move on. Finish out your term on a high note and leave. You needn’t explain why or justify your decision to the institution. Thank them for the opportunity and go on to better things. Don’t dwell on the negative. Also, don’t be surprised if former colleagues or supervisors show up at other institutions down the road – as was noted at the beginning of the article, higher education is truly a small world.


Caprino, K. (2017). 5 undeniable signs that it’s time to leave your job. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/kathycaprino/2017/02/14/5-undeniable-signs-its-time-to-leave-your-job/#72060d9a1539

Cho, C. (2017). 7 signs you should leave your job (sooner rather than later). The Muse. Retrieved from https://www.themuse.com/advice/7-signs-you-should-leave-your-job-sooner-rather-than-later

Keenan, E. (2014). Leaving academia? It’s time to have ‘the talk.’ Chronicle Vitae. Retrieved from https://chroniclevitae.com/news/434-leaving-academia-it-s-time-to-have-the-talk

Miller, B. (2012, February 28). When to quit your job. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://www.chronicle.com/article/When-to-Quit-Your-Job/130956

Steffensen, I. (2014, January 15). Are we never ever getting back together (Probably). The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://www.chronicle.com/article/We-Are-Never-Ever-Getting-Back/143989/