Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Ask the Administrator: Should I Remain Pure?

A new correspondent writes:

I've just started my first quarter as a part-time English instructor at a community college near Big City, and I was lucky enough to get a full load. Next quarter, however, that probably won't be the case, as enrollment at our school goes down in the winter and spring. I've applied to a few other community colleges in the area, but I haven't heard back from anyone. At any rate, I was wondering if I should apply to Big City University as well, since I've taught at Private College (where I got my MA, and where I taught for a bit after grad school). But would teaching at a university work against me if I want to continue part-time at CCs and eventually apply for full-time jobs at CCs?

First, congratulations on your first teaching gig! I hope it treats you well.

And I'm heartened to hear that you consider a full-time cc gig a worthwhile goal. I happen to think it is -- okay, I'm biased, but still -- and the students deserve professors who actually want to be there, rather than professors who are 'settling' for it. You've picked a tough year to hit the market, but you know that.

All of that said, your question really goes to purity. If you teach at different kinds of places, does that somehow compromise your candidacy at a cc?

In my observation, the short answer is no. The longer answer is no, as long as you have some cc experience.

Since cc faculty jobs are really about teaching -- and teaching the students we actually have -- candidates who have experience with students akin to those at the cc have an advantage. But that experience doesn't have to be exclusive. If you've taught at both Tony Private U and Local CC, you've gained experience with different sorts of students. I'd be concerned if your only experience were at Tony Private U, but that doesn't look to be the case here.

In fact, there's a pretty good argument to be made for gaining exposure to different campuses, and even to different sectors of higher ed. You'll be better prepared to tell students what to expect when they transfer, for example. You'll also have a better sense of which quirks are local and which are just endemic to the academy. (Hint: there's more commonality across institutions than many academics suspect.) You'll pick up more contacts, which can't hurt, and you'll be less at the mercy of a single hiring manager. If you're mixing public and private institutions, you're better able to smooth out the fluctuations in enrollment at each. (For example, in my area the non-exclusive private colleges are hurting for enrollment right now, and the publics are bursting at the seams. That's pretty common during recessions.) Yes, there are limits to all of these, and you need to factor in extra transportation time and money. But I certainly wouldn't turn down a good private U gig out of fear of some sort of impurity on your c.v.

Good luck!

Wise and worldly readers -- what do you think? Have you seen private college experience held against someone at a cc?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.

You know, I didn't read "Big City University" as tony, private, or in any way necessarily radically different from a community college other than that it offers 4-year degrees. Where in the letter is that written?

The fact of the matter is, comp is comp no matter where you teach it. I'd be shocked if anybody even noticed a few courses taught not at a CC - let alone if they held it against you.

Similarly, I teach at a 4-year place (in English) and am currently serving on a search. A slew of our applicants have worked (or currently work) at CCs. This is not a strike against them. Lots of things are, but that isn't. Why? Because outside the tippity top tier of higher ed, tenure-track faculty teach general education courses. Even at 4-year schools.

I think that in the big wide world of higher ed, there is much less dichotomy between CCs and the majority of 4-year institutions than is sometimes apparent from public discourse on higher ed.
I'd even count that as a plus at the CC if they are targeting some students to transfer to BCU. Our college system is a bit different than the CCs of the US, but we do get some cross-over and it's never a bad thing if you're a teaching focused faculty candidate.
In response to Dr. Crazy's comment that "comp is comp no matter where you teach it", I'd have to disagree. I teach developmental math at a for-profit institution and I have friends who teach developmental math at Big City Universities, and our student demographics are significantly different, leading to very different experiences in the classroom.

I've had students who understand that $0.42 means forty two cents out of a hundred, but who don't understand that 0.42 means forty two out of a hundred. Hell, I had a student who didn't know what "Italian" was. We get a lot of commuter students who never seemed to gain any culture or maturity in their first 18+ years of life.

On the other hand, most of the students my friends teach had that extra push to pursue a four-year degree, to go to college away from home (even if it's only an hour away), or to live in a dorm. These aren't huge differences, but the motivation behind some of them comes from vastly different types of students than those I generally encounter. This motivation can be the difference between night and day in the classroom.

Big City University may not be radically different from Generic Community College, but I'd be willing to bet that the difference in students' backgrounds is quite noticeable in most general education classes. That said, I think it would be a positive experience to work in both environments, as it will lead to a greater diversity of experience that can be applied to future teaching endeavors.
I've taught in both CCs and BCUs, and I agree with both of the above posts. To a certain extent comps is comp, and yet to another extent the differing demographics in a CC can -- can -- cause some shifts in focus and pedagogy. However, that said, CCs seem to regard themselves as very distinct from 4 year schools, and very often their hiring criteria are dramatically different. On big for instance: never, absolutely NEVER have I had to annotate my graduate coursework when applying for a BCU position. BCU is usually more interested in my teaching resume and the classes I've taught and can cover; CC's, however, don't seem that interested in what I've taught, but they are deeply interested in the courses I took as a grad. student -- nevermind that it was 10 years ago and I hardly remember.
Spouse, in a social science discipline, landed a full time CC job he has been eying for four years. I'll relate his experience for what it is worth.

Spouse was reportedly their first choice candidate because he had TONS of teaching experience with general ed type courses at a variety of colleges INCLUDING CC experience (1 year when you added up adjunct stuff) as well as 5 years as a high load lecturer at a BSU, 1 year at SLAC and 1 year at elite SLAC.

Pedagogical goals and methods need to be tweaked no matter where you go. For instance, number one question on first quiz at this urban CC was "what is a backhoe?"...totally not important, yet a standard example of the type of concept he was testing.

CC's want to know you are aware of their unique challenges, but generally are in favor of a diversity of experiences IF you can relate how that will help you in their setting.
In my CC world, teaching at a 4-year is a bonus--but as DD says, the CC teaching experience is a virtual must. A sure-fire interview killer, though, is for the candidate with 4-year experience to give the impression that he or she is "stepping down" to a CC position or, worse yet, is doing us a favor by thinking about teaching for us. The original writer doesn't seem to have this handicap at all--but I've seen it more than once as a member of search committees.
I teach physics, but the CC hiring issues are universal enough that what I have posted in my blog (under the "jobs" heading) seems to apply here. The point about never even hinting that your are stepping down to a CC is definitely universal.

I'll endorse everything DD said along with the comments, but single out "CC's want to know you are aware of their unique challenges" because of the importance we place on the answer to any question we ask about teaching a diverse student body. And that is where experience at BCU and the CC, and even experience teaching at Private College as a grad student, is a plus. It can be a really BIG plus if you can work it in during your interview by describing how you tailor your teaching methods to different backgrounds without changing your standards regarding what students know when they leave your class.

One reason we like to see some experience at schools like the ones our students transfer to is so the instructor can "norm" their teaching to the future competition. It does our students little good if they graduate here and fail there. Similarly, it helps the students to hear that they are learning at the same level as at the school they plan to attend next.
I'm over 65, and I've now taught at about 22 colleges - I have several graduate degrees so it's been in different fields, but mostly English because of demand - of all kind: community colleges (full-time and part-time), technical colleges, private 4-year liberal arts colleges, flagship and second-tier state universities (f/t & p/t), two professional graduate schools, Catholic and Jewish and Protestant-affiliated universities, high school-based cc courses, graduate classes, classes at all hours from 7 am to 11 pm.

It's been a wonderful life and I obviously prefer novelty and diversity (I was a trust-fund kid so money never mattered; I realize the vast majority of academics don't have that luxury for which I will always be grateful to my robber-baron forebears). The more varied experiences I've had, the more I've learned how to be a better teacher.

I hope I can continue to teach at different schools (three very different campuses this term) as long as my skills and brains are still working.
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