Now that you’ve gotten the gig, its time to prep for class. There are a few things that you need to keep in mind as you are planning out your schedule and writing your syllabus.
First, most 4-year universities that I have attended have been a bit cavalier about class meetings, and class times. If you need to cancel class for a week, no problem. Need to end an hour or so early? Sure. This is a great way to get in trouble and not get hired back at a community college. You should expect to be teaching the whole time, every scheduled week. However, if there is a scheduled holiday on your class meeting time, congrats! You get the week off and still get paid! That’s the joy of LHE!
The other thing to keep in mind is that, for the most part, community colleges aren’t going to hold your hand. They are going to hire you and say, “Great! Class starts on Monday. Talk to this person to get your keys.” And then let you go. They will let you set up your class however you want (pro!) but don’t offer much guidance on what exactly you should be doing week-to-week (con!). To smooth over this transition, I’ve put a few resources in the “Teaching Resources” section of my website, including a general course-plan that I follow for my Intro to American Government class, and a sample syllabus.
The first thing you are going to want to tackle is creating your syllabus. This means we have to talk about Student Learning Outcomes, or SLO’s. When you are creating your syllabus, there are a number of things that you need to include. Ideally, your department chair should tell you what these are, but you can also find them in the Faculty Handbook you get as part of the on-boarding process. One of these things is the required Student Learning Outcomes. Every designed class (like Intro to American Government, Comparative Politics, Intro to Political Theory, etc) has a set of student learning outcomes, designed by the department and the school and registered with the state accreditation board. In an ideal world, these are designed as guides to the class and tell the student what they will be learning in your class. Practically, they are guidelines or benchmarks to meet and to record.
As an example, an SLO for an Intro to American class might look something like this: “At the conclusion of the course, students will be able to explain the civil liberties and civil rights of individuals as articulated in the U.S. Constitution and federal court decisions.”
As an instructor it is your job to keep track of how many students are meeting these SLO’s, and then it is the departments job to record these statistics and make them available for the state accreditation board. Departments can get in real trouble if they don’t keep these records, so expect to see a department chair stress out about SLO’s a lot.
How this usually works is that you need to present all of the SLO’s for your class in your syllabus (there is usually 4-5). And then at the beginning of the semester, the department chair will announce which one they are going to be tracking this semester. At the end of the semester you will be asked to say how many students attempted the SLO, and how many passed it. This usually involved a specific question on a test, or perhaps a writing assignment. You will have to say that you tested SLO by providing a specific question on your final exam, and then 40 students attempted the SLO, and 35 passed it by getting a grade of at least 7 points out of 10 on the question. Sometimes the departments will try to coordinate this, and everyone will track the same SLO using the same test question. Overall, you don’t need to worry about this when you are designing your class, except to be aware of it happening and to put the necessary language in your syllabus.
Additionally, you will want to put some very clear language about your class policies, including your policy on adding and dropping students in your syllabus. In my experience, you will have a lot more students trying to add, and a lot more students trying to drop your class, as compared to a 4 year institution. While not a strict contract, your syllabus represents your agreement with your students, and if there is any question about grading, or if a student tries to go over your head and cause problems (which has happened to me several times!) the dean is going to look at your syllabus first for language that will help them help you. I put a sample American Government syllabus in the “Teaching Resources” section of my website.
You should also think about what textbook you are going to require. I am a big fan of using low-cost or free textbooks, particularly the ones at OpenStax. Keep in mind that your students are at community college for a number of reasons, and one of them may be financial. More students may be working full-time than you expect! Doing what you can to lighten their financial burden will be much appreciated. I have also found that students who cannot afford a textbook often just try to go without. Making them buy an expensive textbook is merely rewarding those students who can afford it, and punishing those who cannot.
Before you go to your class on the first day you should do a number of things, here is a quick first-day of class checklist.