Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Ask the Administrator: No Experience without a Job..

A left coast correspondent writes:

I have been trying to get my foot in the door in CC's in southern California for a year now. I must've called a dozen or more schools, applied through the online systems, and informally sent my CV and cover letters to the chairs and vice chairs of several departments. While I am still trying, I am also applying to full-time jobs. I've read that CC experience is a must--that I must have experience teaching the CC student body. While I have not taught at a CC, I have taught 8 independent intersession courses: 3 at my R1 where I am currently ABD and 5 at my alma mater, a city college (part of the City University of New York). The city college has a diverse student population and is pretty much an open-door school, with very low SAT admissions. Thus, I do believe I have the desired experience with students from a variety of backgrounds, both academically and socioeconomically. I emphasized this in my cover letter, as did two of my recommenders.

My questions are: 1) Is CC experience essential? Should I even bother applying to FT TT positions without having taught at a CC, despite my other experiences? 2) Is intersession work not as important or weighed as heavily as full semester teaching? I'm assuming that teaching one class in the winter and summer may not

I’ll start by acknowledging that I don’t know the California system, and whatever collective bargaining issues that may be in play. In some states, there’s a contractual preference for people who are already in the system.  Whether that’s true in California specifically, I don’t know; readers who know the quirks of the California system are invited to share in the comments.  

That said, I can say that I’ve seen faculty applicants succeed in getting full-time cc faculty positions without prior cc experience.  The critical variable is usually the academic discipline.  

In disciplines in which the ratio of candidates to positions isn’t so high, it’s easier for new people to break in.  That means, for example, that it’s much easier to break in if you’re in Nursing than if you’re in English.  I know that isn’t terribly helpful at this point, but since you don’t specify a field of study, it’s worth mentioning.

I’m not a fan of people pre-emptively ruling themselves out of jobs.  If you really want to teach at a community college full-time, go ahead and apply for posted positions.  (I wouldn’t bother with cold calls, though.  The processes are far too prescribed these days for cold calls to work.)  You can’t make accidents happen, but you can make yourself accident-prone.

If you aren’t up against a contractual issue, and you manage to get an interview, I’d recommend focusing on the ways that the teaching experience you do have is similar to teaching at a community college.  How do you reach students whose academic preparation isn’t strong?  How do you help students whose focus is necessarily divided among college, family, and work?  How have you worked with students with disabilities?

From a hiring perspective, I wouldn’t look at intersession courses as the equivalent of semester courses, if only because you’re probably only teaching one at a time.  Given that a standard community college teaching load is five courses per semester, I’d want to see that you have shown signs of being able to juggle multiple classes simultaneously.  Someone who may be perfectly fine doing one thing may struggle with doing five.

Typically, the way around the “no job without experience, and no experience without a job” conundrum is through adjuncting.  Adjunct gigs are much easier to get, since they pay so poorly.  If nothing else, they will give you the experience to say truthfully that you’ve taught in a community college setting.  They will also give you exposure to the reality of the community college classroom, which could inform your judgment as to whether this really is where you want to make a career.  Just be prepared to live really frugally unless you have some other job at the same time.  The fact that there’s such a thing as an adjunct track is deeply troubling in itself, both from a fairness perspective and from a sustainability-of-the-industry perspective, but that’s a much longer, separate discussion.

Good luck!  I hope you’re able to find a path that makes sense for you.

Wise and worldly readers, what do you think?  Is there a better way around the “no experience without a job” dilemma?

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