Monday, May 02, 2016
How Can High School Teachers Become College Professors?
Lately you've been posting a lot on the need for teaching-focused faculty in higher education. I would be curious if you have any insight on teachers in the K-12 world who have successfully made the jump to college teaching. We would come in with many of those basic skills which you note newly minted PhDs often lack, though obviously we would have prepared for a different context. What are the barriers that prevent this from happening more often? Is it just credentials? What challenges might a high school teacher not expect?
This is what happened to me: I went to college later in life (I use the phrase loosely - I graduated with my B.A. in English when I was 31), in 2007, right when the economy collapsed on itself. I started but did not complete a graduate degree (which I have since done). Because of my extensive experience tutoring writing at multiple college writing centers, my mostly-complete master's degree in English with a concentration in rhetoric and the teaching of writing, and my formal teacher training, I found it exponentially easier to get a job adjuncting without the finished master's degree than I did finding a job teaching junior high or high school English, despite my being a licensed teacher. I adjuncted for a number of years in three different states, at both community colleges and universities (and in fact I was told I had gotten those CC jobs in part because I had attended and graduated from a community college myself; I would understand the culture from the students' perspectives).
In August 2015, eight years after having graduated with my B.A., I finally landed my first full time position teaching high school English; I was the first person to interview for this particular position, and was offered the job in part because of my college-teaching experience. My particular position requires me to teach concurrent enrollment (known in some circles as dual enrollment) through the same community college at which I've been adjuncting since 2012.
I did things backwards, in a sense, and certainly not the way most teachers seem to do it. I loved teaching at the community college and was about to just throw in the towel altogether - I was becoming cynical that I had put so much effort into trying to find a full-time teaching job in three states and having no luck.
I would in no way be able to recommend someone getting a graduate degree in education unless one is fairly certain that one wants to stay in the K-12 range. However, this is just my perspective. I've appreciated the flexibility that comes with having a graduate degree in my subject matter.
I want to emphasize the credentials point Dean Reed made. Our accreditor (and all others AFAIK) insists on either a masters in the content area being taught or a masters in anything (e.g. education) and 18 graduate hours in the content area being taught. That is the minimum for a full-time job, but also expected for adjuncts.
That said, I know quite a few folks who moved from HS to CC, some my senior and now retired, others relatively new. (These are all in either a science or math field.) All the ones I know were, at one time or another, adjuncts. Some on our campus at night, others teaching dual enrollment at the HS. So it does happen. And all were quite happy to have a more orderly work environment. In one case, that was the main reason for wanting to make the jump.
I also know of one case where the move was unsuccessful, and (although what I know is second hand) might touch on one thing Dean Reed mentioned in passing. It goes way beyond "it’s possible to give failing grades." We are expected to give failing grades to failing students, particularly in sequential courses. Triple-secret makeup exams that cannot be failed and unlimited extra credit are not the norm at a CC. [Or, at least, that used to be the expectation. I'm waiting for the day when a legislator who pushed "passing rate" as a performance metric ends up with an incompetent person as their bookkeeper.] It is still pretty common to be working in an environment like college used to be, where it is the student's fault if they don't do the work and can't pass tests that measure the same things they did in past decades.
While many would love to jump ship and teach CC full time (really just to get away from the administrative micromanaging and similar irksome political issues; I find the teaching part itself to be similar in HS and CC), the biggest thing stopping them is the salary difference. At tenured HS teacher with 10+ or 20+ years teaching experience makes WAY MORE than a first-year professor...an experienced teacher without a Ph.D. could take a $30,000+ pay cut if they have to start at the first step of the CC pay scale. Also, many CC's relegate non-Ph.D. faculty to "instructor" or "lecturer" rather than "professor" pay grades; this is a significant salary difference and often does not come with the same job protections (so when budget cuts hit your department, you're the first to go).
But, by all means, start by adjuncting on the side. CC's are always desperate for new adjuncts and tend to like experienced HS teachers because they have more confidence in your ability to teach than a Ph.D. who has never been in front of a classroom. You might find that CC students aren't THAT much different from HS students (especially if you are teaching a non-majors class). To be honest, HS students hold a special place in my heart and are generally better at making me feel like I made a big impact on the way they think about the world.
But "exponentially" does not mean "much". It means "increasing or decreasing by a constant factor".
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