When entering graduate school a lot of students probably dream of working at high-ranking R1s or liberal arts schools. I’ve already discussed the overlooked middle option, but I think it is also important to consider careers at community colleges. While community college life is not for everybody (neither is R1 life!), I taught a few classes as an adjunct at a small commuter college in a department with only one tenure-track sociologist and found it to be a rewarding experience. It was helpful to teach sociology to a group of students who had seen some of the negative effects of social structures firsthand. I also liked the mix of ages and backgrounds, which provided a lot of interesting anecdotes when I asked students to illustrate class concepts.
Although this has been debated recently, another potential benefit of working at a community college is that you don’t necessarily need a Ph.D. to do so. If teaching is what you love and want to do, you may be able to start your career much sooner than those who earn a Ph.D. While I only have a few experiences with schools such as these, another recent post at the Chronicle of Higher Education gives an interesting look at life at a community college, and the useful life experiences the author gained in lieu of a Ph.D.:
My job: Carry a 5/5/4 teaching load with three preps, sometimes four. Be ready to get three different courses into shape on four days’ notice. Be ready to teach composition, Homer, research skills, Mark Twain, a little public speaking, Dante, computer skills, T.S. Eliot, grammar, Hemingway, critical reading, Voltaire, business writing, Emily Dickinson, basic prosody, Flannery O’Connor, basic literary analysis, and whatever else needs teaching, off the top of my head if necessary (and yes, I’ve taught all of those in one academic year). Advise 50 students, 48 of whom are the first in their families to set foot on a college campus, 35 of whom are the first to finish high school. Serve on committees. Tutor students. Do whatever community-relations work the boss needs me to do. Endure enough professional-development activities to keep my superiors happy. Take care of all my own typing and most of my copying. Help students deal with the bureaucracy and our baffling computer systems.
Sometimes I counsel students in nonacademic matters. Sometimes I just listen to them. Some say things like “I’m just a dumb redneck” and “I know I’m too stupid to do this.” They apologize for asking for help. The mothers — and half of my students are mothers — never tire of talking about kids and their problems. Sometimes I wonder how the hell a 20-year-old single woman who has a baby and cancer manages to get out of bed in the morning, much less come to class. I’ve held babies so that students could rummage in diaper bags to find the essays they wanted me to critique.
Since our maintenance department might lose a race with a tranquilized slug, I also fix things. Thanks to me, the door of the faculty men’s room closes. I made the campus-safety department a better tool for opening vehicle doors when students lock their keys in their cars. When the wheels of our housekeeper’s cart begin to squeal so loudly that I can hear them over the Led Zeppelin playing in my office, I oil the bearings to get her through another few months. I fixed the office labelmaker. When the paper cutter stopped cutting, I brought the blade home and sharpened it with my Dremel tool.
I’ve changed flat tires for students, jump-started their cars, cleaned and tightened battery terminals, diagnosed c-v joint problems, spliced broken wires, and added most of the important fluids to their vehicles. Some students have no one — or at least no one competent — to help them with such things. So besides teaching them the right punctuation to use with conjunctive adverbs, I also teach them that Toyotas and Hondas don’t take the same power-steering fluid and that GM and Chrysler products need different kinds of transmission fluid.
Welcome to community-college teaching.
Incidentally, the Chronicle has an entire series of articles on “The Two-Year Track,” and candidates interested in applying for these sorts of jobs might also want to check out this advice for interviewing at a community college.
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