Sunday, February 18, 2007


Ask the Administrator: Preparing CC Faculty

(I'll be incommunicado on Monday, so this will serve as Monday's post)

A faithful reader and occasional commenter writes:

I am the grad director of a humanities department at a large state university with a terminal master's program. We have a small but thriving MA program: a few students go on to high school teaching, and a few go into PhD programs. The majority of our students are non-traditional, i.e. when the come to us they are already in the neighborhood of 40 and have done other things in their lives. Like most non-traditional students they are usually bursting at the seams with enthusiasm, and they are a joy to teach and direct.

Now, if the best of these students can get into a PhD program, and can finish it, their odds on the regular academic job market will be seriously limited by their age and other factors of snobbery. I have held up community college teaching as a viable option to them, as I have several friends who do it and love it (when I myself taught at a school with a 4/4 or 5/5 load I was far more productive). I do not know, however, what I should do with these student to prepare them to teach community college. Is a PhD preferred these days, or will a solid master's do it? They will all graduate with experience as independent teachers in a school with almost no undergraduate admissions standards (i.e. they will have taught students just like those at community colleges). Should their studies be more broad than one would get in a traditional MA program?

I'll speak to the Northeast, since that's the region I know. The answer may be different in the Midwest or the South; I'll have to leave it to my readers to comment on those. It will also vary by discipline.

Since you're in a 'humanities' field, I'll focus on that. When we have openings in fields like English or History, we have a strong preference for Ph.D's or late-stage ABD's. (Of course, “the dissertation is almost finished” is right up there with “the check is in the mail,” but hope springs eternal.) Part of it is a sense that somebody with a doctorate has shown extra dedication to the field; part of it is that we market ourselves as having a faculty as academically strong as most of the school to which our grads transfer; and part of it is a cross between snob appeal and 'why not?'.

It may be hard to believe that a college with a 5/5 load would attract a strong pool of doctorally-qualified candidates, but we do. The academic job market in the humanities has been so bad for so long that we get some very impressive people.

Breadth of study can be helpful. Smaller cc's often (by necessity) need people who can teach in multiple disciplines – political science and history, or sociology and psychology, or English and ESL. When the staffing is thin, specialization is an unaffordable luxury. For reasons I can't pinpoint, the magic threshold for being able to pick up another discipline is usually 24 graduate credit hours. So for some smaller schools, someone with a Master's in, say, psychology, might be better served picking up some additional credits in sociology than in psychology. (Typically, it works best when the positions are closely related. Combining English and ESL is likelier to pay off than combining English and Chemistry.)

More generally, from a cc hiring standpoint, you've either taught at a cc before or you haven't. The culture of a cc is palpably different from the culture of even a lower-tier four-year school. That's not to say that you don't face similar challenges there, but some cc teaching experience goes a long way. I'd encourage your students who are interested to pick up an adjunct course or two at a nearby cc and see how/if they like it.

(At my current college, according to a story I've heard from several reliable independent sources, one dean quit after a single day. This was sometime in the 1980's. I learned that on my second day at work, when several people greeted me with a fairly surprised “you came back!” That was just a little unsettling.)

I wouldn't necessarily advise older grad students to consider cc's out of fear of age discrimination. That could happen anywhere. The reason to teach at a cc is that you want to. If I get the impression that a candidate is 'settling,' that candidate is done.

Sorry to fall back on 'it depends,' but it really does. The one really solid piece of advice I can give with confidence is to have them try a few courses at local cc's to see if this is the setting for them. If not, there's not much point in arranging a career around it.

Worldly and sophisticated readers – your thoughts?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at ccdean (at) myway (dot) com.

As my signature indicates, I can't comment directly on humanities ... but some things are universal. We do not have any bias toward a PhD in any field, but that additional depth and knowledge usually shows up in other ways and many of our non-PhD faculty are ABD. Knowledge never hurts.

However, my main point would be that wanting to teach is number one, and that a candidate whose PhD led to extreme depth without the breadth and knowledge of the odd detail that enlivens the classroom, and who is "settling" as DD put it, would not be favored over a lively, personable, MA who likes teaching the subject.

My main advice to the original writer is that these job candidates be mentored on the expectations of a CC (teaching portfolio, sample syllabus, essay on reaching diverse audiences, whatever the job advert says is expected with the application), and start preparing for the job hunt in the way s/he goes about evaluating instruction by those grad students.

As DD put it, a CC is very different from a 4-year college. We put zero weight on publications.

PS - At our CC, the magic number is 18 semester hours of graduate work to qualify in another "area". The advice to "know your market" definitely applies here.

PPS - At our CC, a fair bit of "writing across the curriculum" is done in our gen-ed humanities courses, something that would be best discovered as an adjunct that in the first year on the job.
Even out in a rural Midwestern state, PhDs and ABDs are preferred. If you are hired at a cc with a master's, they usually expect you to complete the doctorate within the first few years - which usually entails several hours of driving each way -not a route I would suggest with the usual teaching load.
IA was (4 years ago) still very friendly to MAs. While we probably would have preferred a phd, prestige wasn't our calling card. We would have much preferred an effective and inquisitive teacher.

Then again, we were a small and rurual CC.
Whenever I've applied for community college jobs, the applications seem to always ask for strange kinds of certification and credentialing. I've taught eng. comp. at cc's as an adjunct, and have nearly 10 years experience teaching comp at virtually every level, but when it comes to applying for full-time work, the lack of these various credentials disqualifies me.

It seems to me cc's do themselves a dis-service by throwing up all kinds of barriers.

(and foir the record, I would love a cc job, and it would not be a come down or settling)
As someone who left my program as ABD to teach in a cc and who has served on several search committees, I'd say this:

1. At my cc, teaching experience and enthusiasm is much more important than a PhD.
2. CC experience and thus, familiarity with the mission of the CC, is highly desirable.
3. Applicants really need to tailor their letter and vita to our instituitions. Generally, we don't care about your research unless it is teaching-related. Spending the first three pages of your package raving about your scholarship in 18th-century literature is a real turn-off.
4. If applying to an English position, talk only about comp. We don't need another frustrated lit teacher who really hates teaching composition.
I've been on more than a few hiring committees at the California community college where I'm an English teacher, and pi's comments accurately reflect the priorities here:

1. Good, experieced cc teachers.

2. Good, experienced cc teachers.

3. Good, experienced cc teachers.

4-10. Good, experienced cc teachers.

And, yes, it's important that candidates tailor their CV's and cover letters to foreground their cc teaching experience. A deep background in medieval literature and a long list of publications isn't what we're looking for.

We usually find what we're looking for in our pool of talented, experienced, hard-working adjunct faculty members.
A couple of afterthoughts:

1. I forgot to mention that a former adjunct here got his job at a nearby CC entirely because he had the equivalent of a dual degree (math and physics). Not sure if he had an MS in math, but he had more than enough graduate hours to keep the accrediting body happy. They needed a math instructor who could also teach physics. Another place might need a composition teacher who can also teach art history or lit, etc.

2. Agreed to the comments about the letter and other application materials. They must be responsive to the advert and make it easy for the committee to see that each i is dotted and t crossed. If you don't know what we mean by "special mission of a CC", find out.

3. Graduate programs sometimes do a good job preparing students to give a decent seminar or "job talk". The focus for a CC has to be on a "sample teaching" presentation, and it had better be exactly like you were talking to a class, done in the alloted time and covering what we expect you to cover at the level we know it has to be taught at.
I have had a much different experience than Anonymous. We have promoted a grand total of 1 adjunct to a FT/TT position over the last 20 yrs. Ph.D. is very much preferred here unless it's a terminal degree in another field (MFA in creative writing for example). I agree with the other answers about interest in teaching diverse classes (example: not just US history but western civ, black history, womens history); willingness to teach online and/or use technology in the classroom; good teaching evals; and appliation materials tailored to the CC system. I've served on 6 committees and chaired 2 in the humanities. It comes down to those who see kind of hungry to teach -- teach as much as you can, at as many different places as you can.
Since a large percentage of undergrads are at to-year schools, going for CC jobs isn't a bad idea.

When there are a large number of applicants, make sure the materials are clear and focus on teaching.

If you get an interview, make sure the teaching demo is really at the CC level.

Also, make sure you know the education buzz words -- lately the trend is toward 'active learning' -- so make sure you can explain how you incorporate them into your teaching.
From California--very little bias toward PhD at my school, at least in humanities. It's all about experience, preferably at a CC. A PhD can be a turn-off, even, if there's a whiff of "this will do until I can get a real job" attached. Committees I've been on have shocked candidates with PhDs and publications galore by not asking them for a final interview--they just didn't seem like a good fit. We get plenty of PhD candidates and aren't impressed by the degree alone, as some applicants seem to expect. That said, PhD is a nice plus and I'd say we're about 50/50 in the English department over the past 10 years.
1. enthusiasm and interest in teaching with a special interest in cc populations. Pretty much all the folks I've seen hired have had at least some experience (minimum of 1 year) of community college teaching. In particular, most of those who I've seen get hired have had some (but not a lot) of experiencing adjuncting at the institution at which they are eventually hired as full timers. But, all teaching experience (including that done at four year institutions) is a plus.
2. If you're coming in from either teaching or learning at a somewhat research oriented institution, the ability to apply the skills that you gained at said research institution is probably helpful. Example: if you're coming from an English grad program or rhet/comp program that emphasizes WAC or if you're coming from an Ed Ph.D. program that is well known for being interested in assessment design it seems like a good idea that you emphasize yoru ability to those skill sets in your t-t job at the cc during the interview process.
3. Collegiality and interest in being a good institutional citizen and departmental citizen.

Pretty much all the traits I've mentioned either implicitly or explicitly relate to the most obvious necessary quality: a genuine passion for teaching which is buttressed by experience teaching in a diverse variety of classroom settings.
Thanks for all the posts, which have been incredibly helpful and informative.

Dora (the person who posed the question)
These are all quite helpful comments, and I have enjoyed reading them, myself.

I must say though, that I was a bit surprised to read where DD wrote:
"I wouldn't necessarily advise older grad students to consider cc's out of fear of age discrimination. That could happen anywhere."

Well, surprised only in that DD didn't point out that perhaps they shouldn't apply at his community college, since he has such an obvious case of the ___ against those over 50. Don't believe me, or choose to question this? Just read back through the discussions where he talks about the inability to hire faculty "his own age" because the old ones won't leave.

Yes, I realize the age of the graduates in question is 40, not 50, but hey, they will be 50 far sooner than those age 28, right?

I also realize that most often, DD's rants against those old folks is that they are no longer contributing as much as younger folks can or will, and so one could argue he is only referencing a "select group" of old farts. But alas, his brush is more often than not far "broader."

2 cents.
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