January 26, 2004

Community College Teaching?

I'm not really here. (Not yet).

But here's a good question from reader DM (comment to Semi-Open Thread: Graduate School Reform):

Here is a possible question that might keep discussion going during our IA's break. Currently I am in that realm, in which I await responses from the initial interview. These colleges interview 15-18 candidates and select three finalists. Several community colleges seeking Ph.Ds have upcoming deadlines. Since I would rather be a full-timer at a CC, than someone adjuncting somewhere, I am filling out these applications. One never knows. My question/wish is for others, who have been down this road, to share their Community College experiences, including the application process.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at January 26, 2004 11:55 PM

The Chronicle of Higher Ed has a series on this. The latest one is about Interviewing for a CC; the article also links to earlier stuff about the CC application process.

Good luck in your search! :)

Posted by: Stefanie Murray at January 27, 2004 12:26 AM

community college experience.

I am currently in my 4th year teaching at the local community college. The first year was wonderful - as an ABD, I loved the work, the colleagues, the schedule, the progress I made in my research. I hated the application process for full-time work. There is little so divisive as the competition among all the adjuncts for the full-time spot. It is unbelievably demoralizing not to be hired in favor of someone from the outside.

Year two: great progress on the dissertation, no job search, no hiring at the college that year to disrupt the peace.

Year three: diss completed, successful defense, few interviews and, once again, not hired as the committee chose one outsider and one insider.

Year four: full-time work, three articles submitted, some interviews, and, yes, once again, the decision whether to apply or not for the elusive full-time position. The pay is so good that I cannot walk away (over $50,000 last year). The job is still interesting: I enjoy the students, the faculty development funding is exceptional, excellent library and inter-library loan facilities. Just the atmosphere when hiring is toxic.

If your situation will be such that you will be either full-time permanent or not hired at all, then I'd recommend it highly. If you're tempted to accept a temporary, "part-time" (even while teaching full-time)position, I'd suggest reconsidering.


Posted by: elana at January 27, 2004 12:56 AM

Thanks for the tips and well wishes so far. I am familiar with the Chronicle series; personal experiences are at least equally insightful. So far the application process is quite interesting. I am expected to remember the blissful years of my BA degree, including the number of units I took. Other sections are more relevant to our discussion on graduate school reform. One school, for example, wants a statement on pedagogical flexibility, learning theory and practice, and curriculum development. While I happen to have written a very serious statement of my teaching philosophy for one of my four-year applications (and I actually made it past the paper screening!), I never officially "learned" any of this during graduate school.

Posted by: DM at January 27, 2004 03:45 AM

One school, for example, wants a statement on pedagogical flexibility, learning theory and practice, and curriculum development.

my understanding of "pedagogical flexibility" would have to do with how you relate to a wide variety of students. Open enrollment means not only an age span from 16 to 60 with that variety of maturity, but an ability spectrum that is a challenge. Even with assessment and placing, at least at our institution, there is a range of ability since students on the border can often self-select upwards (and they usually flounder). Unless there is a reading prerequisite for comp classes (which we have recently enacted), you might talk about how you'd deal with students who are not at college reading levels.

"learning theory and practice" - just don't mention lit crit theory instead of the nuts and bolts of reading and writing.

"curriculum development" - not sure what to suggest here. I've found the faculty in the dept (as opposed to administration) to be wary of any lit course proposals since there are a limited number of students taking lit classes and then the more standard classes risk losing enrollment (ie, be careful that the canonical lecturer isn't on the committee when you propose something new since his/her course is directly threatened by your suggestion).

good luck,


Posted by: elana at January 27, 2004 10:16 AM

Hmmm -- I guess it depends on why you want to work at a CC. If you have dreams of landing at a research institution eventually, don't do anything but adjunct. If teaching is what you do best and what you focus on, go for the CC.

I teach at a CC (full-time, temp, hoping a position will open but on the market for other CCs and small liberal arts colleges). Given the choice, I would never leave -- although that has a lot to do with my really excellent colleagues. Here's what, in my experience, CCs want:

  • Flexibility and coverage -- to really be able to teach a wide range of courses. There are some courses I can't teach (anything post-colonial American, for example), and I've learned to avoid CCs that want a person who does it all. In History, it's a pipe dream for the admin folks, and you will never be treated with respect.

  • Great teaching. The students really need to come first, and you need to make sure the interviewers know you understand the ramifications of teaching at an open-door institution. Note: this is something very hard to fake, and senior CC faculty are pretty good at sensing whether or not you really do understand their world.
  • Curriculum development -- can you redefine your courses, add internet components, and fit them into the ever-changing world of outcomes and Gen Ed requirements? Will you participate in Learning Communities and IDS courses?
  • Collegiality -- To the faculty on your hiring committee, this is the second most important thing. CCs require huge amounts of admin and committee work, and your colleagues want to know that you will be doing your fair share.
  • The interviewing process at CCs often includes a panel of faculty, plus an HR person and possibly a staff member and a student. Really.

    Still, if you love to teach, CCs are the best. If you are thinking of it as a stepping stone, or as 'settling', I advise against even applying. Good luck, whatever you decide!

    Posted by: Another Damned Medievalist at January 27, 2004 11:14 AM

    "If you love to teach, CCs are the best."

    An interesting thought. I can see that if the only other alternative were a large, research-oriented university, but would you propose that CCs are a better place to teach than small liberal arts colleges? And if so, why?

    Posted by: Ruth at January 27, 2004 11:20 AM

    Another question.

    I have heard variations of how one "gets stuck in a community college." Whereas I don't view spending one's career at a good CC as being "stuck there", apparently accepting full-time employment at one could seriously hinder future opportunities at a research institution or a four-year university. Having not made any long-term decision yet, especially since the "market", luck (fortune), and other forces will strongly influence my future, I just have to ask why being full-time at a CC could adversely impact one's future. I guess I am naive.

    Posted by: DM at January 27, 2004 12:17 PM

    I taught at a community college a long time ago. My experience was that, if you like teaching, it can be rewarding. However, there's a lot of teaching and precious little, if any, time for research. In answer to the previous person's question -- the reason a CC can affect your academic career is that most universities and colleges place a high degree of value on research and publications. Teaching 5 classes per term with 30-50 people per class means you really don't have very much time for anything except lesson plans, grading, and meetings. If you're eager to spend time on research, CC will be very disappointing -- although perhaps some CC's allow for research time. I haven't seen any that do this, though.

    Having said all that, I'd make the decision for permanency and give up the adjunct/contingent route altogether. Then, again, my opinion is also that it's better to work outside your field completely than be a "permanent contingent." You'd be doing your personal part to battle exploitation of contingent faculty by "just saying no."

    Posted by: Academy Girl at January 27, 2004 02:36 PM

    In terms of CC versus small liberal arts school, I think there are trade-offs, but I would say they are equal in the "love of teaching" area. The differences I see are the greater ability to develop new courses and to continue one's research (and perhaps not be quite as overworked) at the 4-year. The advantage of CCs is that you really are serving the purpose of making a college education available to everyone -- and you get a much more heterogenous student population, which I like. On the other hand, the open door policy can be a drawback. Maybe I should have said, "teaching undergrads?"

    ADM, the survey queen ;-)

    Posted by: Another Damned Medievalist at January 27, 2004 03:18 PM

    "I can see that if the only other alternative were a large, research-oriented university, but would you propose that CCs are a better place to teach than small liberal arts colleges? And if so, why?"

    One factor that speaks favorably for the CC teaching experience is that comunity colleges do a fine job of providing professional development support in the area of teaching. For example, the two CCs I've taught at offered faculty and staff a wide range of workshops (taught both by in-house experts and outside experts) in such things as integrating technology into classroom instruction; learning theory; and testing and assessment.

    Another type of interview question that has been a big deal lately is "assessing learning." In a CC interview last year, one of the questions was "how do you know that students have actually learned something in the course?"

    Posted by: dexter at January 27, 2004 04:07 PM

    I have to agree with Academy Girl. If ever faced with a decision between a permanent position at a CC and the equivalent of being a permanent adjunct, my choice would be obvious. While my research is certainly important, I just can't see myself accepting any sort of long-term underclass status, in the hopes of someday achieving whatever that goal may be. Of course each person has his or her own needs, on which I certainly hope I am not passing judgement.

    This leads me back to ways of reforming graduate education, or ways of helping graduate students get permanent positions at a CC. It does not appear as easy as some more naive ones might think. For example, one school, to where I am applying, clearly states that it does not credit TA experience. It appears to be a decent CC and is located in a very beautful part of the country. I guess it can be choosy, even with its Ph.D applicants; quite a few members of the faculty have Ph.Ds.

    Posted by: DM at January 27, 2004 04:25 PM

    "In a CC interview last year, one of the questions was 'how do you know that students have actually learned something in the course?'"

    Great question. How would one answer this? That is, what kinds of cues and soecific phrases might committees be listening for?

    On another note, 4 year liberal arts colleges versus CC's, it's important to remember that most liberal arts colleges, while they may emphasize teaching more than, say, major research universities, they also emphasize and require an ongoing research/publication record. In fact, I'd go a step further and say that many 4 year liberal arts college are on the look out for candidates who regard them as _just_ teaching institutions. And they respond unfavorably toward these candidates.

    Posted by: Chris at January 27, 2004 04:53 PM

    "On another note, 4 year liberal arts colleges versus CC's, it's important to remember that most liberal arts colleges, while they may emphasize teaching more than, say, major research universities, they also emphasize and require an ongoing research/publication record."

    Is this really true beyond the most elite liberal arts colleges? When I was on the academic market, I was shocked to discover that at some of the best regional liberal arts colleges two articles will get you tenure.

    Posted by: Frolic at January 27, 2004 06:34 PM

    Forgive me for being full of questions, but Elana has posed something important. How many of us, after spending years in a graduate program, dealing with students who are generally prepared for the university, can handle or even help students not at college reading levels. Recent experience has shown me I have much to learn before I am remotely able to handle this class of higher ed students. How have others approached this?

    Posted by: DM at January 27, 2004 11:09 PM

    Academy Girl said:
    Teaching 5 classes per term with 30-50 people per class means you really don't have very much time for anything except lesson plans, grading, and meetings. If you're eager to spend time on research, CC will be very disappointing -- although perhaps some CC's allow for research time.

    But not all CC's are quite like this. I teach a full load with 4 classes per semester and, while I start with 25 or 28 students per class, usually I have 17-18 who finish. I don't have a lot of preps since I've done this for a few semesters. (I do change the readings they do so that I get fresh sets of essays in response!).

    AND the faculty development committee accepted a proposal for funding a week of reserach at an archive last summer.

    It is true that there is very little free time during the semester for research. However, I do try to keep writing since that's how I continue to teach writing - by doing it myself. Not sure how I'll feel if research/writing completely fade out.

    Posted by: elana at January 27, 2004 11:44 PM

    I forgot to mention conferences. I've had one per semester paid for by the CC. This is great for focusing my writing; it is less acceptable, say, in the corridors. So I play it down. nasty habit there, academic research and writing.

    Posted by: elana at January 28, 2004 12:01 AM

    Actually, DM, although I teach history, a huge amount of my work is really focused on teaching critical thinking and writing. Most community colleges have an open door policy, and many don't enforce prerequisites because there is competition for FTEs. I tell my students they won't survive my class unless they are at a real college reading and writing level, but even with that, I do a LOT of "how to construct a 5-paragraph essay" in my classes. If you add to this the fairly large numbers of non-native speakers and students with disabilities, it can be very demanding.

    I've taught at 4-year schools, and not had those challenges. On the other hand, I do find that there is much more support for improving pedagogy at the CC level, both formally and informally. I think CC teaching makes me re-assess myself as a teacher constantly -- but it's also damned hard work. I love it though.

    Posted by: Another Damned Medievalist at January 28, 2004 02:10 PM


    Thanks. This is more evidence that if our discipline really wants to improve its training of graduate students, it needs to better prepare more of them/us for the for the realities of a CC classroom, since this is becoming the best job available for many. Six-seven years focusing on research and teaching relatively well-prepared students are great; I really enjoyed my dissertation. Little of this, however, helps one address the needs of the kinds of students you described. Of course many of us are intelligent people and can adapt; nevertheless more preparation for the kind of career that is realistically out there would not hurt.

    While sitting among fellow job candidates at this year's AHA, and scanning the looks on many faces, it became painfully obvious that desperate job-seeking Ph.Ds, myself included, are a dime a dozen in our profession. That means ever more Ph.Ds for the many CC's out there, and more people faced with the choice between a permanent job with good pay and reasonable benefits, and toiling away as an adjunct.

    Posted by: DM at January 28, 2004 10:44 PM

    By the way, regarding CC's and research, I had one interesting experience a while back. When I first hit the conference circuit, I went to a smaller conference to gain some experience. This was a gathering of mostly community college instructors, all of whom had Ph.Ds. While their high teaching load did not enable them to publish as often as others do, they held a regular conference, and published papers in its proceedings. While none was a so-called academic history rock stars, they were all contributing to their/our profession. I was impressed.

    Posted by: DM at January 28, 2004 10:48 PM

    I've adjuncted at three CCs in suburban areas and found the students to have a kind of working class grit (for want of a better term) that my current students at a private university lack -- so I related to them much more because of their excellent work ethics.

    However, at two of these schools tenure track slots opened up and I was quickly told by both division deans that they simply could not hire a white male. As you can imagine I appreciated their candor but as a committed teacher with great student evals I was deeply offended by this racism in the name of some abstract notion of "diversity" (of color only of course, not of ideas).

    So I'd say a CC can be a great place to work in terms of having better-than-expected students, but expect that a lot of PC nonsense will infect the overall work environment.

    Posted by: Cartman at January 28, 2004 11:33 PM

    Will teaching at CC's become the new place for phds who prefer to teaching or mentoring over research? There are different kinds of academics. Some enjoy research over everything else. Others feel more satisfied by mentoring students, seeing them appreciate the material. Both kinds are needed for any discipline to prosper.

    CCs suffer from a bad rep. Since attending 4 year colleges has become increasing common over the years, a CC degree has lost much value. CCs today function more like "college-lite", where students who messed up their SATs or couldnt get into their dream college spend a semester or two brushing up before applying to a 4 year college again. (This of course doesnt apply to all CC students. But in the larger scheme of things, excluding the blue-blood colleges, most state colleges allow non-students to register for classes. The CCs dont have a monopoly of non-traditional students.)

    If certain CCs do indeed serve as a spring board towards 4 year colleges, an influx of phds willing to make teaching at CC a career will change the dynamics of traditional colleges. Why should Big State U. teach pre-calculus, freshman comp. or intro. history? Local CCs can do the job, probably even better. This lowers the use of adjuncts in 4-year colleges since they will be teaching relatively fewer introductory classes. Faculty can continue teaching upper-division classes as they always have done.

    Everybody wins. (I am assuming that CC compensation is higher than adjunct salary.)

    Posted by: Passing_through at January 29, 2004 01:09 PM

    Nice idea, PT, but unfortunately, CCs are also hugely dependent on adjuncts. Some of the CCs in my state have a 3:1 ration of adjunct to full-time faculty. I'm lucky, because I've only taught at union shops and private 4-year colleges, but even then, my wages as an adjunct, doing the freeway flyer thing to flesh out a 3-3-3 load, were $20k less per annum than what I make as full-time temp faculty. The wages at CCs can be good, BTW, but the scale tops off fairly low. I came in as a PhD with 7 years of experience (CCs often count experience generously, so I got credit for years teaching adults in the corporate world and for teaching ESL abroad) really great, because I started high up the scale, but if I were tenure-track, I'd hit the top end of the scale two years after tenure -- and right now, that's only a difference of $7k. Still, it's way better than the proverbial poke in the eye.

    As for DM's latest comment, I think he's right -- the one thing I've noticed in my interviews that might keep out a lot of otherwise perfectly decent PhDs from the CC market is that CC faculty often really do operate with a sense of mission. In my (somewhat limited) experience, an MA with the sought-after dedication to teaching, collegiality, and that open-door mission often has an advantage, if only because CCs only want PhDs who don't see the job as a stop-gap in their search for the perfect job.

    And like any other employer, CCs smell the desperation, too.

    Posted by: Another Damned Medievalist at January 29, 2004 02:41 PM

    If I were to decide that the CC is my future, my plan would be to stay there. Therefore I would probably be very choosy about location. One of the applications I had this week was in a part of the country that would certainly appeal to others, but not to me. I imagined myself explaining to a committee that I really, really wanted to move to their part of this nation to teach at a CC, and that I would stay there. Because I could not convince myself, I concluded that filling out the application would waste my time, and reading it would waste theirs.

    Posted by: DM at January 29, 2004 06:08 PM

    What a terrific, informative discussion. Thanks to everyone! :) Just a quick question (I hope): what do you think of a high school history teacher with an MA transitioning to teaching at a CC? Will s/he have more difficulty, particularly in competing with (I assume) the PhDs? Or would it depend on location (well, although I'm from Los Angeles, so there's probably a lot of competition anyhow... ugh), etc.?

    Posted by: AmericanHistoryTeacher at January 29, 2004 08:59 PM

    AHT -- My guess is that it depends a lot on your teaching experience and whether you have kept up in the field. Also, depending on the college, whether or not your MA is in History (I'm guessing it is, since you're in CA). Your challenge will be selling yourself as someone who has the ability to teach to a non-high-school population. If you happen to be applying to places where the student population includes lots of high school students (I have only 5 this quarter, but my oldest student is in his 30s -- my Americanist colleague has 10 in one class), then it might be an advantage. Good luck!

    Posted by: Another Damned Medievalist at January 29, 2004 10:50 PM

    IA, dear, you are not really here and still you get 25 comments ---

    Clearly, the world can't be without you.

    Posted by: anna at January 30, 2004 05:46 PM

    Lieter had an interesting post, with a link to this article, which applies to adjuncts as well as everyone else. Facinating how things change so slowly.


    Posted by: Steve at January 31, 2004 12:29 PM

    Thanks Another Damned Medievalist! Very helpful and you make some good points. Can I ask, do you think CCs would consider MAs who have "published" over those who have not? I guess it always helps to have published, but I don't think many (most?) secondary school history teachers have published anything at all (unfortunately)! Shoot...!

    Posted by: AmericanHistoryTeacher at January 31, 2004 04:12 PM

    I'm also a high school math teacher in NYS and adjunct at a community college. I have a master's in education. I've thought about trying to get into a community college full-time, but they want someone with a master's in the subject area. I think that in the long run, the money is better in the public high schools than in community colleges.

    Posted by: Mark at January 31, 2004 11:43 PM

    P.S. - Does anyone know anything about the academic job market for Ph.D's in Education? It seems to be thriving, I wonder how long it will be like that for?

    Posted by: Mark at January 31, 2004 11:44 PM


    A fair number of CC profs make extra money by teaching continuing education classes. Most programs get a referral fee and the rest of the money goes to the teacher. It is possible to make a fair amount of money from a good program, especially when others sign on to teach under you.

    In that respect, the money beats high school teaching.

    But many high school teachers average 40k a year or better.

    Posted by: Steve at February 1, 2004 12:59 AM

    As an MA in history teaching writing at a CC, 17 years now, I can't really speak to the you young jobhunters with fresh Ph.Ds. But if you want a feel for life at a CC, check out www.emcc.edu/faculty/jgoldfine --where I talk about daily stuff, classes, students, colleagues, education, training, hassles, and yet more stuff.

    Posted by: john goldfine at February 1, 2004 04:40 PM

    Transitioning from business into teaching Reading and Writing with an 'old'MA in English I find I love the CC environment. The student population is not the 4 yr coll. crowd but a real mix and challenge. What got me the job, was my experience teaching/training mixed adult/language groups, rather than academic credentials. Also, like the business coll adjunct experience I had, the curriucla needs continual tuning - the texts available don't always meet the needs and I keep looking, fine tuning and re-testing. Because CC students are often looking to change/learn new skills for latest careers -CC teaching is really about creating and communicating the absolute latest. I think long term - there is a real future at CCs.

    Posted by: Ann McGill at February 1, 2004 09:10 PM

    Great discussion all, thanks for the valuable insights--ADM especially.

    I have a question about political science at the community college level. I'm getting ready for my first job search next fall, and I'm debating whether to include CC jobs amongst those I apply for. I've been watching the job market this year, getting a sense of what's available. One thing I've noticed is that, unlike the History and English departments, Poli Sci departments at community colleges often only offer one class--Introduction to US politics. Now, I don't mind teaching this class at all, in fact, I've done it twice as a TA and once as an adjunct, even though my main fields of study are political theory and international relations. I think I could make a pretty strong case that both of those courses belong on the CC curriculum (I've got other, less traditional ideas for the CC curriculum as well).

    Based on your experiences with the CC environments, how would this kind of attitude likely be recieved? Would I be treated as a welcome innovator furthering and expanding the pedogogical mission of the school, or an interloper from Big Research U. trying to remake the CC curriculum to suit my interests? (There is some truth to both, I would imagine).

    To reiterate, I'd happily teach that US politics class, even as most of my courseload. And I could accept leaving most/all of my research behind. I just don't think I could leave behind Hobbes, Rousseau and International politics.

    Posted by: DJW at February 2, 2004 11:58 AM

    Why would you leave behind Hobbes, Rousseau, and IR? It seems to me that the first two speak to the very root of US politics and I think you'd be remiss if you did not spend a considerable amount of time dealing with the role the US plays in the world.

    Maybe this isn't the same as having separate IR and Theory sections, but you can always work them in -- and I think you do your students a service in doing so.

    Posted by: Cartman at February 2, 2004 07:42 PM

    Cartman, such common sense has little place in academic political science, where there are four primary subfields (US, IR, Theory and Comparative) and they are to be taught separately. The greatest absurdity is the separation of US and comparative, which are more or less identical, except one focuses on the United States, and the other focuses on the rest of the countries. People giving job talks lately have been mentioning the need to integrate comparative politics and IR, and people have treated this as if it's some impressive insight.

    In the standard intro to US politics course, one lecture or maybe one week will be spent on US foreign policy, and Hobbes and Rousseau (and more so, Locke and the Levellers) will merit a bullet-point apiece in the lecture on intellectual and historical antecedents to the thought of the founders. The only political theory that is actually read by the students will be The Federalist Papers, #10 and #51, and maybe some snippet from Paine, Jefferson, or later on, MLK.

    The course, typically goes something like this:
    2 weeks on founding, constitition, etc.
    1-2 weeks on the executive branch
    1-2 weeks on the legislative branch
    1 week on the courts
    1 week on federalism/state and local
    1 week on political parties
    1 week on the media
    1 week on public policy
    >1 week on social movements/civil rights
    >1 week on foreign policy

    And then the term is over. It's a remarkably impovershed way to approach the subject, which I come to forget since it's so common in the discipline. It's pretty much the way it's always done at Big Research U. where I come from, and both schools I've adjuncted at (including a CC, where I was pretty much given the curriculum and told to use it). I would like to think CC administrations and hiring committees would be eager to allow for some innovation into this orthodoxy, and maybe it's not as hegemonic as it appears to me. I worry, though, about creating the perception that I'm some kind of young Turk coming in to shake things up and overhaul the curriculum. It could impress, but it could backfire just as easily.

    Posted by: DJW at February 2, 2004 11:31 PM

    DJW -- you might also want to check (as always) if you are replacing a PoliSci person or if it's a new opening. Lots of Departments start with a US History/PoliSci person, then split the disciplines as enrollments in those areas grow. Check out how many sections there are and if US is required for graduation or transfer. Then, remember -- go in prepared for doing what they ask, but knowing that CCs like breadth. Our Poli Sci person has actually positioned himself via a bunch of interdisciplinary courses into teaching mostly what he wants as he comes up for tenure and also making it possible for our department to legitimately ask for another position!

    Posted by: Another Damned Medievalist at February 3, 2004 01:53 PM