1: Intro and Background
One of the questions I get asked most often is, “How do I teach at a community college while in grad school?” With insufficient graduate stipends and the realization that teaching is not a priority in graduate school education, many grad students, rightfully, look to the Community College market as a way of earning some extra money as well as gaining valuable teaching experience while they are in graduate school. However, the community college system can be both bureaucratic and esoteric, full of confusing terminology and odd procedures that can make it difficult to know where to start, or how to proceed. The purpose of this series of blog posts is to hopefully provide some resources to help graduate students get started in teaching at the community college.
Who Am I, Who are you, and Why?
Who am I? Well, on the off chance that you didn’t come here directly from my Twitter account, I am Stefan Kehlenbach, a graduate student (currently) at UC Riverside. But I’ve also been an adjunct professor of political science at a number of community colleges in Southern California since 2013. In 2012, I finished my master’s degree and having not gotten into any preferred PhD programs, I moved home to figure out what I wanted to do. My father is a professor at a community college and he suggested that I look into picking up some classes at the community college to see how I liked it. Now that is a bit easier said than done, but after meeting with some people and going through the interview process, I got hired at Santa Ana College in 2013, and have been teaching around ever since. I was a “freeway flyer” for a few years, where I put together several part-time adjunct positions to try and reach a full-time level of employment. I was driving between several schools, often in the same day, to teach multiple classes. In 2015 I began my PhD at UC Riverside, but I decided that I didn’t want to give up teaching, I began to transition to teaching online and hybrid classes and have been able to teach an average of 3 classes per semester for the entire time I have been in graduate school. This is not something I recommend. It is a lot of work, even for someone with a lot of experience but taking on a few classes is completely manageable, even with a graduate school workload.
Ok, so who are you? Hopefully you are a graduate student who is interested in community college teaching, either as a way to make some extra money, or gain additional experience, or perhaps as a stepping stone to a full career. I will say at the outset, that as I am not personally pursuing a community college career at the moment (for a number of reasons), so I do not have a lot of advice to those seeking full-time community college jobs. But also, if you are a full professor, or someone who supervises graduate students, I encourage you to think about why one of your students might be looking into adjuncting, and what sort of resources you might be able to provide to support them or help with the underlying problems that adjuncting is solving (lack of pay, lack of pedagogical training, lack of teaching experience, etc.)
Why? Why I am I doing this? Well, for one, I have noticed that many graduate students are interested in teaching community college, mostly for the additional income, but also as a way of exploring a different career path and as a way of escaping what are often paternalistic rigors of graduate school. They are looking to use what they have learned and be seen as the experts that they are. I also recognize that I have benefitted from an immeasurably large amount of institutional and structural knowledge and privilege. As I mentioned before, my father is a community college professor and so I have had the opportunity to grow up around the community college system and be able to talk about both the institution and about pedagogy across the kitchen table. So, this series is, in a very small way, an effort to help pass this knowledge on and close these structural knowledge gaps.
Now, with the introductions and justifications out of the way, I think I would be useful to close this first entry with a brief description of what it is like for me to teach at the community college level. This is probably not exactly what it will be like for you, but it might give you an idea of what it would be like.
In a pre-Covid era, when I would do most of my teaching in-person an average schedule would generally include 2 in-person classes, and 1 or 2 online classes. Since I have seniority at most of my schools, I have some options as to when my classes are held. My strategy is to teach the once-a-week night classes, usually running from 6-9pm. I do this for a number of reasons, but mostly because if I have a long-ish commute, I would rather do that once a week, instead of twice or even three times a week. I don’t mind teaching in 3-hour blocks. I usually take a 10-minute break every 50 minutes. This is required by the school; classes need to have 10 minutes of break for every 2 hours of class. You can either do that in 1 long 20-minute break in the middle of a 3-hour class, or 2 shorter breaks spaced out every hour. I go with the shorter breaks because it makes the teaching a bit more structured, and you have less student attrition. I found with the 20-minute break a number of students would leave for break and not come back.
I usually try to have those classes at the beginning of the week, so I teach Monday and Tuesday nights, and then TA or teach as an instructor for UCR’s grad program during the day. The most stressful part of this is setting up the schedule, as none of the schedules line up perfectly. UCR is on quarters, while my community colleges are on semesters, but the semesters are offset by about a week from each other. This makes lining up all of my schedules a nightmare. But during the week my teaching is quite streamlined. The majority of my community college classes are Intro to American Government, which I have taught so often that I don’t need to do any substantial prep work, I can usually just show up and teach, which saves a lot of time. I also dedicate about one work-day per week (usually Monday) to grading. I can usually get all of my grading (TAing and CC’s) done in a bit more than a half a day. I have a number of strategies I use to streamline this process, which I will talk about later. Overall, this doesn’t feel like a huge amount of work to me, but I am a bit of a workaholic, and pretty comfortable teaching classes without defined lectures and minimal notes. If you need to meticulously prepare for each session, it might be more work for you. But then again, one of the advantages of adjuncting is that it makes you, by necessity, a more efficient teacher.
Finally, finances. How much money can you expect to make adjuncting? Well, it depends, and is sometime hard to tell. Schools pay you hourly, or technically per LHE (Lecture Hour Equivalent). This means they are going to pay you per hour you spend in a classroom, they do not usually pay for prep or grading time. This is 3 hours a week, for the whole semester. So, to find out your full semester pay you multiply your LHE by the hours of your class, and then again by the number of weeks in the semester, including finals. As a rough guide, I generally make between $4,500 and $5,000 per class, per semester but I have a lot of seniority so my payscale is on the high end. This mean, with an average of 3 classes a semester, I can add about 30k to my grad student stipend per year. Not too bad, but you aren’t gonna make your friends in finance jealous with your teaching. But you knew you weren’t gonna make any money when you signed up for grad school… right?
Next week we will talk about actually getting the job!