So, its July or early August and you’ve decided that you are prepared enough and you’d like to pick up a class or two for the fall semester. You go onto a website like cccregistry.org to look for open positions. When you do this, you probably notice two important things. First all of the jobs are described as “pool” positions, and second that there aren’t too many of them. This is because you are too late! If your grad school is like mine, they probably schedule you at the very last minute, telling you what you are teaching or TAing only a few weeks before school starts. This is not how the community college system works. They schedule classes nearly a full year ahead (it is November and I’ve already submitted my class requests for next fall!)
How do you actually get a job? Community colleges generally hire adjuncts for one of two reasons. First, their enrollment numbers are up so they got permission to add more classes in their next schedule. Second, some emergency happened and they need someone to teach a class for the upcoming semester very soon. Either way, they aren’t posting these openings on a job board at that time. Instead, what they like to do is to collect a “pool” of applications over time and then go through the applications that they already have on file and then call applicants. This is where it can be useful to have some connections. If you know someone who is already at a community college you should let them know you are applying. Ideally, this would be someone who is a full-timer at the school, but sometimes adjuncts can help out too! I’ve gotten a number of emails from department chairs at schools where I adjunct asking if I know anyone who can teach a class when there has been an emergency, or an unexpected opening. But in these situations the best scenario is that you have already submitted an application and I (or someone else) can say, “Yes! Check out this person, they have already submitted an application.”
What goes into an application? On average, they will require a resume/CV, a cover letter and transcripts. They might also require something like a teaching or diversity statement. Now there are some important things to keep in mind when you are putting together your application. A CV and transcript is pretty standard, but make sure that you have a Master’s degree in something relevant to the position you are applying for. Unfortunately, something like a Master’s in Education (that many K-12 teachers have) does not let you teach specific subjects in a community college. Your degree needs to be in what you are trying to teach. The cover letter and statements are where it gets tricky. First, I know we as graduate students are trained to talk about our research and what we do, but trust me, the community colleges do not care about your research. Talking about your research too much, or at all, can actively harm you. Stick to teaching experience and your qualifications. If you went to a community college, even briefly, mention it! The hiring committee or department wants to know that you understand what it is like to be a student at a community college, it is a very different culture and feel to a major 4 -year university, and the faculty know that.
To that end, the hiring process at a community college is an incredibly bureaucratic thing. In California, at least, this process was designed from the ground up with equity in mind. This means that your materials are put through as “objective” of a review process as they can come up with (these next examples are what I have seen or have had people tell me for the colleges in Southern California. The process may be different elsewhere but it seems to me that it is mostly the same.) Prior to hiring anyone, the committee decides what they want in terms of candidates and materials, and develops a specific rubric that they will use to evaluate job candidates. They then use this rubric to write their job ad. This means that you, the applicant, should treat the job ad as a check-list. Know that the committee is going to look for you to speak to every requirement. So if they want “familiarity with the needs of community college students,” you better find something to say about that, even if you don’t have any experience at the community college level, because if you don’t you will be graded down. Go through the job application in detail, and make sure you have something to say about each aspect of the application, and make sure it is easily identifiable in your materials.
This bureaucratic process continues as you move into the interview and teaching demo. When you get the call for an interview, the school will want to set up a time, usually about an hour or so, for you to come in for an interview and a brief teaching demo, usually about 15 minutes. This can be a really strange, unnerving process. In my experience, the interview usually involves a number of faculty members, and perhaps the dean or some other higher level admin sitting around the table. Each faculty member will, in turn, as you one question, with no follow-ups allowed. Then they will all grade your response to the question, and the next person will ask their question. It isn’t a conversation but something more like a graded oral exam. It is very strange and you will feel like you did terrible, even if you killed it. They will probably ask you about your teaching experience, if you have any connections to the college, and how you might deal with diverse student populations.
The teaching demo is perhaps the most important part of the interview process. After going through the questioning session, they will probably ask you to lead a quick teaching demo. There are usually no students involved, and the committee will ask you to pretend that they are the students in the class. Again, this is a very odd thing, but there are some tips and tricks you can use. First, remember your audience and the job. This is not the time to break out your job talk or give a graduate-level seminar. Remember, you are going to be teaching an intro level class to 50 bored students who probably don’t want to be there or only need your class for a transfer requirement. Stick to the basics! Pick an easy, basic idea or concept (they might even assign you one) and go over it as if they had never heard of it before. Doing an activity is a great idea! In my experience, when I asked a hiring committee to do a quick, simple activity, like answering a discussion question, they all perk up and get really into acting like students! One time, I even had the dean of the school take out her cell phone and very obviously play on it while I was teaching. She later asked why I didn’t yell at her for using her cell phone in class! (I answered that, while I would have acted differently if she actually was a student, I recognized that she was a dean and might have had some legitimate business I didn’t want to interrupt. She accepted this answer, and I ultimately got that job.) Keep it quick, keep it simple. Make a powerpoint with the basic concepts and some pictures. Don’t put too much text on it, and don’t read off it.
Now if everything has gone right, you should soon be getting a call from HR to make sure you get a TB test and fingerprinted (it is a state job after all!) And now you can start looking to prep your first class!
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!