Teaching in the Community College: A Possible Road to Be Taken, L Carpenter

Tags: institutions, community colleges, Community College, technical students, continuing education, English faculty members, university-transfer, technical education, continuing education divisions, four-year institution, communication courses, university transfer, microcomputer classes, state education agencies, open admission, MLA Job Information List, ADE, Associated Writing Programs Job List, ADE Bulletin, job market, Association of Departments of English, The Association of Departments of English, Chronicle of Higher Education, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Texas schools, national sources, Lissette Carpenter, minority publications, Texas Junior College Teachers' Association, CCCC job placement
Content: Teaching in the Community College: A Possible Road to Be Taken Lissette Carpenter ADE Bulletin 111 (Fall 1995), pp. 20­22 ISSN: 0001-0898 CrossRef DOI: 10.1632/ade.111.20 Copyright © 1995 by The Association of Departments of English All material published by the The Association of Departments of English in any medium is protected by copyright. Users may link to the ADE Web page freely and may quote from ADE publications as allowed by the doctrine of fair use. Written permission is required for any other reproduction of material from any ADE publication. Send requests for permission to reprint material to the ADE permissions manager by mail (26 Broadway, New York, NY 10004-1789), e-mail ([email protected]), or fax (646 458-0030).
Teaching in the Community College: A Possible Road to Be Taken LISSETTE CARPENTER
DISCUSSIONS at academic meetings inevitably turn to the job market, and the news of late has not been good. Search Committees report being swamped with hundreds of applications for a single position. And recent MLA statistics seem to support the often pessimistic tenor of these discussions; the number of jobs in English advertised in the Job Information List increased by eight percent in 1994­95 but declined by seven percent in 1993­94 and by greater percentages in the previous few years, even as the number of PhDs significantly increased ("Final Count 1994 ­95" 2; "Final Count 1993­94" 14). But the MLA statistics do not include most two-year colleges, which only rarely advertise in the Job Information List. And it is the two-year colleges that are now experiencing great growth in student populations, becoming the "colleges of choice" for an increasing Number of students (Wynne 21). With this increasing number of students comes the concomitant growth in available faculty positions. Yet the two-year-college job market is seldom given serious consideration by graduate students or their advisers. To introduce you to the opportunities in the two-yearcollege market, I begin with a definition, or a clarification, of the idea of a two-year college--or a junior college or a community college, as it may be called. Significantly, more and more schools are choosing to refer to themselves by the term community colleges, which is more indicative of their role and less pejorative than junior colleges. Let's begin with a few statistics. There are over 1,200 public and private two-year colleges, and ninety percent of the nation's population is within commuting distance of one. Annually, 6.5 million students enroll in two-year institutions; included in this figure are over one-half of all first-time students in the American higher education system (Boggs 4). Since English courses, to varying degrees, are required by virtually all two-year colleges, these figures represent many teaching positions, particularly since twoyear schools do not employ graduate teaching assistants. Obviously, the job market is greatly expanded for master's or PhD graduates in English willing to pursue careers in two-year institutions.
The organization of these schools, quite different from that of the traditional four-year institution, is often misunderstood and maligned. Generally, community colleges have three main divisions: continuing education, technical education, and university transfer. Other than occasionally teaching a short course or taking a course for personal enjoyment, faculty members in English have little to do with continuing education divisions, which may offer courses on cake decorating and calligraphy as well as microcomputer classes. English faculty members' connections with the technical education division may be more substantial, for a number of two-year degrees or one-year certificate programs include in their core curricula composition classes and, to a somewhat lesser extent, literature classes. Of greatest importance to English faculty members, however, is the university-transfer division, in which traditional composition and literature survey courses compose the main offerings. English or communication courses are sometimes tailored to fit the needs of the technical students, but often technical students take the same courses as students intending to transfer to four-year institutions do. Thus, the challenge for two-year-college faculty members is to maintain university-transfer standards while providing accessible education to students of varying abilities and objectives. Most two-year colleges have open admission and are relatively inexpensive, factors that to a considerable extent determine the makeup of the student body. The female and minority populations are large, and because of the many students entering or reentering the system after having been homemakers, minimum-wage earners, or other education stop-outs, the average age of students is twenty-seven or twenty-eight. Day classes may consist of The author is Professor of English and Director of Liberal Arts at McLennan Community College and a member of the ADE Executive Committee. This paper was presented at the 1994 MLA convention in San Diego. ADE BULLETIN, NO. 111, FALL 1995
a majority of students only recently out of High School and a significant number of older students. Evening classes, however, are heavily populated by older students who are usually furthering their education to better their life situations. Many of these students are highly focused on their goals and demand a quality education unmarred by wasted time or inaccurate information. Some of my colleagues are fond of saying that they are the students who "keep us honest" and provide for us the true rewards of teaching. But low cost and open admission also attract underprepared or unfocused students who cannot or will not meet the demands of college-level work. As a result, many twoyear colleges have large developmental or college preparatory programs, the writing portions of which may be housed in their English departments. Working with these students can be both frustrating and highly rewarding. A few of them have limited ability, but others find college a place of discovery, an awakening. Being a part of that process can be a reward to anyone who loves teaching. It is easy to make uninformed assumptions about twoyear colleges and to stereotype them as substandard. But it is important to realize that, like four-year institutions, community colleges cover a broad spectrum. Enrollments vary from a few hundred to over thirty thousand, just as they do in four-year institutions. Academic standards vary from college to college and from state to state, just as they do in four-year institutions. Though two-year and four-year schools share many characteristics, one major difference is the two-yearcollege emphasis on teaching rather than research. Because of this emphasis, some two-year systems are reluctant, and some even refuse, to hire applicants who hold the PhD, but not all two-year schools share this reluctance. More widespread among these schools is the regional accreditation standard of a master's degree as a minimum, with eighteen graduate hours in the field of instruction, either as a part of or in addition to the degree. Some institutions may choose to reward additional academic preparation with salary increments. Experience in working with the kinds of students found in the two-year college, perhaps as a tutor or adjunct instructor, is also an important hiring consideration. Thus, like a four-year institution, the two-year college seeks to recruit competent, well-educated faculty members who can help it achieve its mission. One area in which two-year and four-year schools differ significantly is in the search-and-hiring process. Twoyear colleges tend to advertise and fill positions later than their four-year counterparts. It is not unusual for two-year schools to begin advertising in February, March, or even later and to complete the hiring process in late summer. Another complicating factor in the hiring process is that community college positions may not be widely ad-
Lissette Carpenter · 21 vertised. Relatively few two-year colleges use the MLA Job Information List; however, some do take advantage of the two-year-college section in the February edition. Other national sources used include the Chronicle of Higher Education, the CCCC job placement service, and composition publications such as the Associated Writing Programs Job List. Since the colleges have a high minority population and since they, like their four-year counterparts, want representative faculties, they may also advertise in various national, regional, or state minority publications. More often, they advertise through local and citywide Daily Newspapers, university placement offices and English departments, and state education agencies. Texas schools, for example, work with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and with the Texas Junior College Teachers' Association. Writing or calling the personnel offices of colleges is, perhaps, the best way to begin the job search. Another major difference in hiring practices is the way on-campus interviews are handled. Two-year colleges seldom pay travel expenses for candidates to visit the school. This tradition is changing somewhat as schools have begun to search nationally for candidates, but applicants would do well to ascertain exactly the financial arrangements for the interview. Let me offer a few words on the rewards of teaching in the two-year college. Perhaps the first reward to be considered, though not always the most important, is the quite competitive beginning salary. An instructor with a master's degree might begin at a salary of $25,000 to $35,000, depending on experience and additional academic hours. Beginning salaries are often equal to or higher than those at some four-year institutions, but the salaries may be more static and are often controlled by an institution's standard scale. Personal contract negotiation is less likely; star systems under which individuals demand and receive higher salaries for specific accomplishments are rare. The competitive starting salary can be good news for many college teachers, but it can also mean that a twoyear-college instructor who begins at a salary equal to or greater than that of the average four-year instructor may lag behind in the later years of employment. A major reward for the person who enjoys the classroom as much as the library is the emphasis on teaching found in most two-year institutions. Instructors teach four or five classes a semester--a heavy load, certainly--but they are not expected to do research and to publish. Publishing is generally viewed as commendable but not required. The classroom is the top priority, and research often involves an activity suggested by K. Patricia Cross--discovering methods of improving instruction (1). Most two-year institutions encourage professional development, however, whether through scholarly conferences or individual institutional programs.
22 · Teaching in the Community College: A Possible Road to Be Taken
Finally, a most important reward of teaching in a twoyear college is an altruistic one: the gratification of helping others create a better life for themselves and their families. The thirty-, forty-, or even fifty-year-old returning or beginning student is a familiar figure on the community college campus. Instructors see single parents, unemployed people, and minimum-wage earners take control of their lives and emerge as competent members of society. They help immature or underprepared students develop the discipline and skills needed to survive at a large university. Community college instructors directly affect lives. Obviously, teaching at a two-year institution is not for everyone. These institutions expect, no, demand that instructors understand and respect the nontraditional student. They expect their faculty members to understand and respect the community college mission of providing quality education, of promoting the fullest development of each student, whether the student's goal is university transfer or the completion of a one- or two-year vocational program. For English department faculty members, those expectations entail understanding that they will teach primarily composition and perhaps a literature survey class or two. A candidate might be asked to describe his or her ideal teaching schedule, and the candidate who indicates a desire to teach only literature classes or who is unable to discuss techniques for teaching writing will seldom be given a second look. Other important interview questions might be, Why do you want to teach at a two-year college? What training or experience do you have that qualifies you for community college teaching? or How do you see the two-year-college student? Local knowledge, too, is extremely important, for adjunct instructors thoroughly
familiar with the institution may be among the competition. A candidate familiar with the bookstore, the library, the catalog, and the campus may be better prepared when asked, "Now, what questions do you have?" Graduate students who may want to consider teaching in the two-year college need to acquire training and experience as teaching assistants or tutors, which will prepare them to answer these questions with confidence and sincerity. More graduate programs need to follow Florida State University's example and help interested students meet with two-year-college representatives (Standley). English graduate students deserve to know more about the opportunities and challenges offered by community colleges, which provide a bridge into higher education for nontraditional students and which could well provide a satisfying career for English graduates just entering the job market. Works Cited Boggs, George R. "Reinventing Community Colleges." Community College Journal 64 (1994): 4­5. Cross, K. Patricia. Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for Faculty. Ann Arbor: Natl. Center for Research to Improve Postsecondary teaching and learning, 1988. "Final Count for Job Information List Ads, 1993­94." MLA Newsletter 26.2 (1994): 14­15. "Final Count for Job Information List Ads, 1994­95." MLA Newsletter 27.2 (1995): 1­2. Standley, Fred. "So You Want to Work with Us?--A Panel Discussion on Job Opportunities and Hiring Practices." Coll. English Assn. Annual Conference. Charlotte, 2 Apr. 1993. Wynne, George E. "Repositioning: A Winning Strategy for Community Colleges." Community College Journal 64 (1994): 18­23.

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