Monday, May 02, 2016

 

How Can High School Teachers Become College Professors?


A new correspondent writes:

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?



High school faculty sometimes cross over.  It can be done.  I’ve seen it done.  One of my best hires many years ago was a former high school math teacher who loved teaching algebra but hated the politics of his school district; he picked up a bunch of developmental math classes and quickly became a student favorite.

That said, it’s definitely the exception.  

Part of the issue is the credentials required.  The standard minimum educational requirement for a full-time community college faculty position is a master’s degree in the subject area; a fair number of high school teachers have that, but many don’t.  The subjects don’t always align cleanly, either.

Part of it is salary scales.  In most unionized settings, salary is determined largely by experience.  But the experience doesn’t transfer.  If you have ten years’ seniority in a high school, you won’t get credit for ten years’ seniority at the college.  In effect, that often means taking a pay cut.  

The major differences -- I’m focusing here on community colleges -- are around student age and organizational culture.

In a college setting, students are assumed to be adults.  Faculty here don’t deal with parents.  We have FERPA to ensure that students have exclusive access to their own records.  (FERPA isn’t absolute, but it covers most routine interactions.)  Nationally, the average age of a community college student is in the late twenties, and it’s not unusual to have students in their forties.  The needs and expectations of those students may be very different from students coming right out of high school.  

Here, we don’t have IEP’s.  Students are expected to self-advocate for any accommodations they need.  Those requests have to be screened and verified by the relevant office on campus, and faculty are not free to disregard them.  But if a student fails to make the request, that’s on the student.  

Relatedly, here, it’s possible to give failing grades.  

Students are assigned to public high schools largely by virtue of where their parents live.  But students choose colleges.  That brings with it the benefits of self-selection, though it can also bring a consumer mentality that many faculty find off-putting.  (A former boss taught me a great response to an entitled student.  When hearing “I pay your salary!” for the umpteenth time,  respond with “Oh, that’s you?  I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that.”  Stops the conversation cold.)  

Here, faculty are expected to take meaningful part in shaping curriculum via shared governance.  That can involve some politicking, which can be appealing or appalling, depending on taste.  

My recommendation for a high school teacher who wants to give community college teaching a shot would be to look into either adjuncting or teaching some dual-enrollment classes.   Ideally, spend some time on the college campus to get a feel for the culture.  You’ll probably find it either more freeing or less cohesive than high school.  

I’d love to hear from faculty who’ve made the leap in one direction or the other.  What differences jumped out at you?  

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


Comments:
One of the biggest barriers - which is not to say that it's necessarily insurmountable, depending on experience and the faculty position to which one aspires - is that many K-12 teachers have graduate degrees in education, as opposed to content matter. I think this can be a tremendous mistake. Teaching experience is gained by teaching - although I think taking education classes is immensely helpful as a pre-service teacher, and continuing professional development is key - but it's more difficult to gain that content mastery because of the amount of time one spends in a high school as a teacher; there simply isn't the same amount of flexibility as there is in the college world to travel to conferences, research, write, publish, or simply keep abreast of changing trends in one's subject matter.

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.
 
The first comment here was really interesting! Thanks for that insight. I'm guessing, but would like to know for sure, if Michelle had 18 hours of graduate courses in the subject area (English) but only lacked the MA degree itself when first working as an adjunct. That happens in my field, where it isn't unusual for someone to be working on a PhD to have the credits but not bother to file for the MS (or perhaps lacking a master's thesis) along the way. Working around a case like that requires some paperwork from the Dean, but is OK for temp jobs.

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.
 
In my department, the vast majority of adjuncts in evening sections are HS teachers during the day. In fact, many of our day section adjuncts are retired or former HS teachers.

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.
 
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The first comment is very interesting.

But "exponentially" does not mean "much". It means "increasing or decreasing by a constant factor".

Don Cox
 
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