Whether in the classroom or in their everyday lives, educators have a remarkable way of affecting how students relate to the world. If your story resembles mine, maybe high school never inspired you much. Instead of applying to university like everyone else, community college was your next step. Fortunately, learning at the community college level presents some pros not only for students but for the professors as well. For those with a real passion for learning and servicing students, community college offers the freedom to do so.
Read on more to find out how you can make your community college professor dream a reality.
What do community college professors do?
Students often presume that community college professors only lecture for a couple of classes, create exams and quizzes and grade. However, their job description consists of so much more than that. Professors often meet with colleagues at regular department meetings to help develop basic curriculum among other goals. They also host office hours on a regular basis, which accumulates extra hours to their weekly schedules.
Sometimes, depending on the institution, the job might encourage professors to be involved in the student community with various clubs, research projects and community service. Often times professors might be recruited to work on certain task committees such as a search committee to recruit and interview new hires.
Teaching at community college might look different depending on the institution and the number of hours put in. However, the most important day-to-day requirements look the same all throughout. These educators dedicate themselves to the advancement of their students in all areas, not just academics.
Community college professors have the advantage of creating the classroom structure to their liking, unlike the K-12 system that adheres to a strict curriculum. University professors constantly engage in research or maintain another profession, such as being a lawyer or working in the public sector.
“I love learning, and also learning how other people learn. I used to think that I love literature, and I love literature enough to pursue my graduate degree, to teach it. But I don’t love it enough to be a researcher of literature. I’m much more invested in how people learn,” Cerritos College Doctor of English Daniel Gardner said.
Community college professors sit right in that sweet spot where teaching shines as the priority, obtaining the freedom to customize the class to their students’ needs.
What does it take to become a community college professor?
Unlike teaching at the K-12 level, teaching at the community college level does not require any type of teaching certification. It does require at least a master’s degree and a certain number of graduate hours in the field you wish to teach, demonstrating mastery in the field. However, many professors end up continuing their schooling and receiving a Ph.D., therefore making the profession quite competitive. Some institutions may require coursework in education studies, but they generally look for experience in teaching, such as any teaching done during the graduate programs or working as a TA.
In the end, every journey looks different.
“When I initially applied to programs right after my undergrad, I applied just to institutions that had a Ph.D.… and I didn’t get into any of them. They were right to reject me! I was not ready for a Ph.D. program. I took a year and I worked… hated it. So then I said, ‘I’m just going to apply to master’s programs’. That’s when I went to Cal State Long Beach,” Cerritos College English Professor Kolleen Kalt said.
Even though the road to teaching higher education looks like a mile hike, even your distinguished professors struggled too. They get it! If your passion lies in teaching, don’t be afraid of plans changing and be prepared to quickly adapt. After all, struggle stories and experiences often make the best professors.
Things to know about being a community college professor
Salaries and hours
Compensation for this noble profession widely ranges depending on various factors. These include the number of hours put in, number of semesters taught, level of education received, tenure, location and the subject taught. Salaries can range from $40,000 to over $100,000 a year. However, California tends to lean a bit higher in yearly salaries. Teaching in the humanities tend to pay a bit less than STEM-related fields, but all salaries vary depending on the previously mentioned factors.
As community college professors first start teaching, their hours can be sparse and typically will only get hired as part-time or adjunct faculty. Commonly referred to as “freeway flyers”, these determined professors fill their time by teaching at multiple institutions each semester.
“There are some who like to teach two classes total because they have other things going on. Then there are some faculty members who teach, like, seven classes a semester at four different campuses. I taught five classes once at three different campuses one semester and I said, ‘Yeah, never again’. I was driving all over Southern California,” Cerritos College English Professor Nicole Lovejoy-Robold said.
Scheduling can be quite hectic, but commitments to committees, campus life and office hours stay limited. Once professors teach consecutively for a certain amount of time, depending on the institution, they might be considered “tenure-track” or will obtain a continuing contract. This includes a yearly salary and benefits. Hours committed will vary but resembles a full-time job: 40+ hours a week including twelve class hours, office hours, departmental meetings and campus events. And the best part? You get holidays and summers off with your students!
One note: you teach adults now. Switch up the classroom dynamic! In addition to the typical classroom setting with 20-30 students per class, you can also utilize technology to your advantage. Some professors find it useful to conduct their classrooms asynchronously, in an online format or as a hybrid. This provides access to students with varying obligations or schedules while also providing extra flexibility to the professor.
Of course, face-to-face interaction helps professors “read the room” so they can tailor the classroom to better suit the students. Now that online learning has become the new normal, a good way to obtain the student-professor interaction can be through discussions or weekly check-ins with students. Remember, you work in service of your students. Let them know you support them!
With the higher education landscape constantly diversifying, the number of people attending community colleges increases every year. As these numbers grow, the necessity for professors at these institutions increases. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, they project the employment of postsecondary teachers, part-time and full-time included, to grow nine percent from 2019-2029. However, certain disciplines such as STEM or health may be more in demand than the humanities. Regardless, there will always be a need for professors at community colleges where you can truly focus on teaching people.
Relevant Skills to be a Professor
Passion for learning
One of the best advantages of teaching at the community college level includes the priority of learning. Instead of splitting your time between class, research or another profession, you devote your time to the students. Sharing your passion for your work cultivates inspiration and academic curiosity. How you go about doing this depends entirely on you, but a love for learning will definitely create a service-oriented mindset and an intent to connect to people.
Community college makes education accessible to all students, whether they be recent high school graduates or adults returning to school. While you may have extensive knowledge of your field, many students come from incredibly diverse backgrounds and varying levels of familiarity with your subject. Do not be afraid to teach the basics. These will often be the founding blocks for inspiring students to become inquisitive of the world.
“I think the first thing you have to realize is that all of that attitude, all of that elitism that can come with having a master’s degree or Ph.D. and being part of an R1 university – you have to put it aside… We’re here to help students have that moment of discovery about how they can change their lives, whatever that major is. Teaching freshman composition isn’t the sexiest thing to do, and yet, when they realize they can write, think critically and they feel like they belong at college, that’s huge,” Cerritos College Doctor of English Stephen Clifford said.
Interacting with people of all backgrounds will help you become a more thoughtful and resourceful educator. Students can also influence your worldview and understanding of the subject you think you know so well. Be patient with students, and maybe they can teach you too.
Educating becomes so much more than speaking for an hour in front of a classroom. Being approachable and showing some level of charisma allows for students to engage with you more personally. Even if the subject does not speak to certain students, the professor inspires intellectual curiosity through conversations with students. Outside of the classroom, professors can be powerful allies. They can help in building networks, finding helpful resources, acclimating to the campus or pursuing higher education or a graduate degree. Never forget that you teach people. In developing good communication skills, you learn to be reliable and encouraging.
“The major benefit of teaching at community college is that you get to focus on teaching. I did not want my promotion or incentives to be based on research. I did not have the passion that is required to make a profession out of that – and I really admire those people who do! But I need to be with people,” Cerritos College Doctor of English Daniel Gardner said.
“When I think ‘thirty years’, it sounds so long, but when I think about how I’ve already been here 10 years, it goes by really quickly. I love it because it goes by so quickly because it’s always different. Every 18 weeks it’s totally new, even when I teach the same thing. It’s new students and new perspectives… That’s what’s so cool about it, that you can teach the same stories and every year it reads differently,” Cerritos College English Professor Kolleen Kalt said.
“When you find that fire, that passion, whatever it’s for – it may be in any one of the disciplines, it may be with any one instructor, you have to find that passion and go there. That’s what our job is: to help students recognize they have skills that may be untapped, and those skills will lead them to a passion they want to chase down. Those are the moments that make our jobs just really… perfect,” Cerritos College Doctor of English Stephen Clifford said.