Monday, March 3, 2014

Getting a Job at a Community College

Here's what I learned at a recent panel at the APA on getting a tenure-track job at a community college. (Apparently it's fairly easy to get an adjunct job -- just send in a CV at cover letter.)

One of the main themes was “teaching first”. In your cover letter, lead with something about your teaching experience or your teaching philosophy. You can talk about your research, but only a little and at the very end of the letter. Your CV should start with which courses you’ve taught, then which classroom technologies you have experience with, then where you’ve taught, then service and leadership experience, and *then* any publications or conferencing. Unless they ask for a writing sample in the ad, don’t send one: it makes it look like (i) you haven’t tailored your application to their job and (ii) your real focus is on research, in which case you’re not a good fit for a CC. And if your letters of recommendation only talk about your research and say nothing about your teaching (which is the case for most letters), then they’re pretty much useless. If your usual letter writers can’t speak to your teaching abilities, find someone who can.

More on the cover letter. Service is a large part of the job at CCs, so you should talk about any service you’ve done in your own department, leadership positions you’ve had, and any other life experiences that demonstrate that you’re a team player and/or a leader. You should also speak to how your approach to teaching fits with the mission of the university, and your experience with diverse student bodies (more on this below). And make sure your cover letters are addressed to the right school. Apparently (and amazingly) this is a common mistake.

In your statement of teaching philosophy, here are two main things to hit on. (1) Engaging students: What do you do to get students interested in the topic? (2) “Assessment”. This is a big buzz word at CCs. The question is: what do you do to check whether they’re learning and whether your teaching style is effective. And in both cases, make sure to use lots of concrete examples.

CCs often don’t advertise in the usual places (PhilJobs, Chronicle, etc.). It’s not uncommon for them to advertise only on their own website, and for the ad to be short-lived (just a couple weeks). So, if there are some CCs you’d particularly like to work at, check their websites regularly. The folks on the panel seemed very receptive to candidates showing up in person to drop off their CV, because it shows a genuine interest in the job.

On which courses it would be especially good to have experience teaching: world religions, applied ethics, biomedical ethics, critical thinking, logic, and any online courses.

They’ll want evidence of experience working with a “diverse” student body. There are all sorts of diversity: diversity in ability, in preparedness, in learning styles, in life situation (some students are coming back to school after 20 years, some are veterans), racial and ethnic diversity. You can also talk about diversity on your syllabus, for instance, that you teach (or plan to teach) a unit on Eastern philosophy in your intro class.

For the teaching demonstration, pick something simple (e.g., utilitarianism), as opposed to something complicated drawn from your research. In all likelihood, it’ll just be the hiring committee in the room, but you should pretend that they’re students (you can even call on them to answer questions). Use “active learning” and use technology. Finally: make sure to practice your teaching demo before the real thing!