If you’ve spent much time looking around my blog, you know that I am very interested in a career in college teaching. This interest has led me to look very closely at community colleges as a good option. I really like what I’ve seen so far – particularly the strong focus on teaching, small class sizes, and the mission of helping all students learn. However, my educational experiences thus far have all been at large research-focused state universities. This means that before I can make the case that I’m a good fit for a position at a community college, I need to learn more about how these institutions work and what it means to be a teacher at one.
As part of this learning process, I recently read “Building a Career in America’s Community Colleges,” by Rob Jenkins, a long-time community college faculty member and administrator. The book is a compilation of essays that Mr. Jenkins has contributed to the Chronicle of Higher Education. It is organized chronologically in the sense that it covers topics in the order one might encounter them during a career as a community college teacher.
The book begins with essays that are designed to help the reader answer the question of whether the career path is a good fit for them. The next section of the book contains the essays that are most relevant for me – the ones that cover how to get started in a career as a community college teacher. These essays cover topics such as degree and coursework requirements, adjuncting, how to make your application stand out, and how to conduct yourself during the interview and teaching demonstration. Mr. Jenkins emphasized some of the same points that Dr. Christine Palmer did in our interview – specifically that doing a lot of background research on the school is critical – you’ve got to prove that you understand their mission, are familiar with their courses and student population, and demonstrate that you will be a good fit for the department. Several essays also discussed the importance of being conversant with education concepts and practices such as learning styles, developmental classes, and exit testing.
The remainder of the book covers what happens after you land a tenure-track position. There are essays on how to be successful as a new faculty member, do well with evaluations, and handle expectations for service to the college. The book concludes with a number of pieces about moving into administration – including a fun piece that discusses traits of good and bad administrators by using Albus Dumbledore and Dolores Umbridge from the Harry Potter books as archetypes.
I think that “Building a Career in America’s Community Colleges” is a must-read for anyone considering college teaching as a career. The book has a lot of excellent practical suggestions and provides a valuable window into the workings of community colleges. I will certainly be referring to it regularly as I advance along this career path.