I know that I mention how much I love my job to the point that it is obnoxious, but I just do.
If you’ve ever wanted to be a teacher, teaching at the college level is definitely worth considering. I mean, you don’t have to deal with immaturity or discipline, you often pick the material and books you teach, you have more flexibility, and the students are more engaged and respectful. What’s not to love?
Potential grad students and current high school teachers often ask me how to get such a position, so I thought I’d explain here how to become a college level instructor, in case anyone else has considered it.
First, the minimum amount of education that you need is a Master’s degree in the subject area you want to teach. This allows you to teach at community colleges, trade schools, state universities, and private universities. Now, with a Masters degree, if you are planning on teaching at a 4 year university, you will most likely only be teaching the intro-level or freshmen-level classes; for example, I teach Freshmen Comp, often called English 101. I won’t be teaching a senior-level literature course at my campus, nor will I ever have tenure. At many community colleges, with a Master’s degree you can eventually become full-time and tenured, and FYI, in many places, those instructors make more than tenured associate professors do.
Getting your foot in the door isn’t always easy, especially if you are in a saturated subject (English) like I am. In order to teach, administrators want you to have teaching experience, but how can you have experience if you don’t have a job? This leaves many potential instructors feeling helpless. What you CAN do to gain experience is to start while you are in grad school, taking every opportunity that you can.
For instance, I supervise my campus writing center, and tutoring there as a graduate student is probably the best stepping stone into a teaching career. If you are studying anything in the humanities, check out a writing center, because no matter what, you will need to know how to teach and assess student writing. Our writing center focuses a lot on pedagogy, or the study and methods of teaching, so the grad students learn a lot about teaching. No matter what subject you are studying, your campus probably has some tutoring or resource center than you can volunteer or be paid to work for. This will give you invaluable experience, trust me.
The second thing you want to look for as a grad student is opportunities to teach in front of a class. Whether it means being a TA or facilitator for a larger class, or getting into a program that allows you to teach your own section of a subject, any experience is good. Check out your local community colleges too; often times they offer intern programs that are probably the best way to make contacts at that campus and to get experience in front of a class.
The hardest part is that all of this is while you are completing your graduate studies. The best thing that I did was to say “yes” to every opportunity to teach or tutor or observe classes. Trust me, I was burnt out, and it was very hard to balance with my other studies. But sleep the summer after your graduate, and use the time when you are a grad student to take every teaching opportunity that you can. It will make your resume/c.v. more impressive, and it may be your only chance to get guidance and mentorship from other instructors.
I will talk about the application process and where to go from there in upcoming posts. I’d love to hear your questions, though!