This post continues our series Confessions of a Full-Time Adjunct. Read my previous post about the top benefits of teaching at a community college.

Interviewing for a full-time job at a community college is an experience I was completely unprepared for coming from a PhD program. After speaking with K-12 teachers, I think that community college hiring practices are more similar to that level than to what goes on at 4-year colleges. The community college approach is highly formulaic and rigid—rubrics and a scoring-systems are involved. And in the end, it’s an administrator who makes the final call on which of the finalists gets the job.  

My purpose here is simply to clarify what the interview process for a community college job generally entails. Although I’ve never personally been successful in navigating the process, I do think that many of my early rejections were caused by the fact that I didn’t understand the interview system at all. So, I hope what follows helps you understand the situation better than I did. 

Overall structure and process

In terms of structure, there is a committee that reviews applications and a first-interview committee (who may also run the second and possibly third interview). Sometimes the “paper” committee (that reviews the applications) is different than the first-interview committee. In that situation, the people who interview you haven’t seen your materials. Because of that, you need to somehow cover all your major qualifications while responding to the interview questions.

The general committee format

In terms of committee make-up, usually the first-interview committees are made up of full-time professors in your field. However, I’ve been to a few first-interviews that included classified staff, administrators, and even students. There, the challenge is to communicate your expertise to an audience of non-experts. It can be very unnerving.  

The first interview

In terms of the format and content of the first interview, you are almost always asked to arrive early to  review and take notes on the interview questions beforehand for around 15 minutes. If you are in English (and maybe in other writing-heavy fields), also expect to be asked to grade a sample student paper during this time. During the interview, you’ll be asked to explain the rationale for your comments and grade.  

Be prepared to teach

Since community colleges are true teaching colleges, also expect to be asked to prepare a 20-minute (or so) teaching demonstration. During the teaching demonstration the committee members act as your students, and in some cases they even role-play as students by misbehaving, or getting off-task, etc.  

Question and answer portion

Once you are before the committee, a strange thing happens. They place the list of questions on the desk in front of you and then each committee member takes turns reading each question aloud to you before you answer them. While usually a bit awkward, the formulaic approach ensures they treat everyone the same. 

They are generally not going to ask follow-up questions during a first-interview. At most, they will ask for an example of whatever you’ve just said. They are not allowed to ask you about the specifics of your CV, and in some cases (as I said before) the interview committee may not have seen your CV.    

If you make it past the first round…

Second and third interviews vary quite widely. I’ve been to some that were with the President, VP, Chair, first-interview committee members—a whole table of people. Some were just the President and VP; other times, it is just a VP. In another variation the second interview was a teaching demonstration in front of a class of real students. They took input from those students, but some of the first-interview committee members were also present to evaluate my demo. At another school, the third interview is just a formality. If you get it, it means you got the job. 

In short, once you make it to a first-interview, you can ask Human Resources about that school’s particular process, or you can ask at the end of the first-interview. 

Although the make of second and third interviews can vary, in my experience, they are quite similar to first-interviews in terms of the types of questions and the chance to review them beforehand. However, in the end, it’s the President or VP who makes the final decision. My understanding is that the first-interview committee (which is made up mainly of faculty from the department) makes a recommendation about who they prefer, but the administrator can override that decision.   

 Now, some specific advice and tips…

The rubrics

The “Desirable Qualifications” section of the job announcement is basically a list of concepts, trends, and skills you want to hit—in your cover letter and in your first interview. You have to spell out very obviously to the committee members reviewing applications and the first-interview committee that you fit all the key things they are looking for.  

My understanding is that both committees fill out a rubric that is created based on those desirable qualifications. Each candidate receives a score, and that’s how you advance. In case you don’t make it past the first interview and want to see how you did, you can request to see these rubrics via HR to get a better sense of how this system works.

Teaching demonstrations

I advise that you take these very seriously. Don’t be boring. Get them doing something, and even better get them moving around the room. Also, use something that you’ve done plenty of times in class so you know the little quirks of the lesson, and you can show off that skill of guiding students where they need it. Don’t do something totally new that you’re unfamiliar with. Show off your strengths as a teacher; give them a sense of what you are like.  

What has your experience been?

I hope some of this is helpful and I’d love to hear what your experiences have been like interviewing for full-time jobs at a community colleges. Connect with Interfolio online on Twitter, and good luck with your applications!

Author bio: Dr. Lauren Nahas has a PhD in English from the University of Texas at Austin.  She is a full-time adjunct in the San Francisco Bay Area.

This post continues our series Confessions of a Full-Time Adjunct.

In anticipation of the spring job-market season, I thought I’d make my pitch for why teaching at Community Colleges should not be overlooked as an option for those seeking a tenure-track job.

Let’s start with the practical details.

A tenure-track job with a Masters

The most straight-forward advantage of working for a Community College (CC) is that you can get a full-time, tenure-track job, with all the benefits therein, with just a Master’s degree. That means: sabbatical, lengthy holiday and summer breaks, almost total control over what you teach and how you teach it, and a lot of control over your day-to-day schedule.  It’s a pretty sweet deal for those lucky enough to land those jobs.  

In addition, based on my quick comparison of salary schedules of a four-year California State University and a nearby Community College (both of which are in the San Francisco Bay Area), salaries for full-time faculty max at about 130k at both colleges. Of course, salary and the in’s and out’s of benefits will vary, but a Community College tenure track job looks pretty good in comparison, especially considering that PhD is unnecessary.

I will say that you’ll be teaching a lot more at a Community College. Full-time faculty teach about 16 units per semester, with college and departmental responsibilities as well. This is because CC faculty are not required to publish, though many do. Which leads me to my second point… 

No pressure to publish for tenure / Focus on teaching

Community Colleges are an excellent choice if you want to focus on teaching. People do publish—especially as a result of projects they’ve worked on during sabbatical. But the tenure requirements emphasize teaching quality, with additional attention to college service and professional development.

However, as a result of this, the funding for conference attendance is much more limited, and probably non-existent in some places. This aspect of working for a CC might be an upside or a downside, depending on your preferences. I knew many people in graduate school who actively hated teaching, and I know some professors at four-year schools who avoid teaching freshman at all costs.  

Adult students are awesome / Community college students will blow you away

Have you ever taught an adult? It’s amazing. I know, of course, that most college students are 18 years old, and thus technically adults, but they tend to have very limited experience of the world. CC students are roughly split age-wise, with a little over 50% of students falling into the “traditional” 18-24 age range, and just under 50% in the 25-59 range. Most who fall into the latter category are returning to school after a few years of working full-time, but you will also frequently see older adults who have completed careers already, raised children, served tours in the military, and so on. Basically, they’ve lived a life, and they bring that life-experience to your classroom.  

For example, at the CCs I’ve worked for I’ve had the great pleasure of working with the following students: a young latina woman, with 2-year-old twin boys at home, whose goal was to become a doctor; a middle-aged  man who immigrated with his young family as refugees from Afghanistan, and who took his five children with him to the library to complete his homework; an older African American woman who eventually went on to complete her degree in Early Childhood Education at a prestigious private University, and eventually opened her own pre-school. 

My point here is not really about the racial or ethnic diversity of the students (though I think that’s important too), it’s more about the varied life experiences. You just don’t see that at most four-year colleges, at least not with the same frequency.

And let me tell you, adult students are on it. They might be rusty, they might be a bit insecure about being surrounded by the young-uns, but they are willing to work hard, they see the importance of content that can sometimes be lost on younger students, and they have actually had to apply critical thinking skills in real life.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate those shiney-new 18-year-olds as well. But there are different strengths in different age-groups and backgrounds, which makes the CC classroom a much richer, more interesting place in my opinion. 

So that’s my case for teaching at a Community College. In California there is a separate job posting site for the CC’s, cccregistry.org. I’m sure other state’s Community College systems have similar sites, but you may have to search area by area. Happy job hunting!

Author bio: Dr. Lauren Nahas has a PhD in English from the University of Texas at Austin.  She is a full-time adjunct in the San Francisco Bay Area.

This post continues our series Confessions of a Full-Time Adjunct. Read Lauren’s previous post about interviewing for a full-time job at a community college.

This post is all about tips for those of you who might be thinking of adjunct work as a long-term career. It can totally be a career; I’ve been doing it full-time for almost eleven years now. Here are my top four recommendations  for objectives to keep in mind if you’re considering adjunct work for the long haul.

Objective #1: Stabilize local employment (To the extent possible, of course)

If you’re committed to teaching at the college level, and the downsides of adjunct life don’t deter you, your first objective is to find local employment. You should think strategically about the locations of community colleges and 4-year schools in your area, and focus on two that will make your commute(s) reasonable.  Then, use the advice in my Adjuncting 101 post to get yourself started working there—focus on getting a fall class, when there is usually the most need. 

Once you’ve been hired, make sure to pay attention to adjunct orientations and any union workshops that will educate you on how unit entitlement works at that college.  Unit entitlement is basically an employment protection for adjuncts: if you’ve taught a certain number of units in the previous academic year, the college is obligated to offer you the same number of units if the work is available.   

The policies on entitlement vary from college to college.  Once you understand how it works, your goal is to maximize your entitlement at two schools and then stay. The longer you’re there, the more seniority you have, and the less likely you are to lose classes when enrollment drops or funding becomes an issue. Some colleges will eventually give you a three-year contract.  This three-year contract has some limitations, but does give you better employment stability.

Objective #2: Make a health benefits game-plan

I advise that you investigate how benefits work for adjuncts at your target  schools before seeking employment. I’ve found that benefits vary widely—at one of my current schools (a California State University), I have free medical coverage for my family if I teach at least 6 units per semester. That’s the best-case scenario. At most community colleges, you will not be eligible for health benefits for a couple of years, and even then the monthly payments can be very high. For example, at one of my current schools, it would cost me around $800 a month to get coverage for my family.  

Do your research on the front-end so you can have a plan. The benefits issue can be a major barrier to working as an adjunct, but if you can get work with a school with solid health-care coverage, that can free you up to do other things in addition to teaching part-time. 

Objective #3: Consider finding paid opportunities for college service

Service to the college is part of the job for full-time professors. It’s not for adjuncts. And some adjuncts really enjoy the fact that they walk on campus, teach their classes, hold office hours, and leave. They have zero stress around the campus politics. However, if you intend to stick around for a while, it might make more sense to get involved. If that’s the case, you can seek out paid opportunities for college service. In my experience there are frequent opportunities for committee-work of various types, and often those committees welcome and are actively looking to add an adjunct perspective. I’ve also found that these committee experiences help me feel more connected to the campus in a job that can feel quite isolating.  And an extra few hundred dollars a month never hurts!

Objective #4: Diversify your courses

Early on in my adjunct career, I jumped at the chance to teach a new class. I knew that down the road that would enable me to say to the chair at a new school I was looking to teach at, “Yes, I’ve taught that; I’m ready; I’ve got a syllabus right here; put me in.” That’s a pretty valuable thing to be able to say when those chairs are looking to staff a specific class quickly.  

So, I advise that from the beginning you take opportunities to teach new classes. (Even though that’s an enormous amount of work. Let’s be real here.)

These are the key things you should be thinking about if you’re going to adjunct long-term. But I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts as well. Tweet Interfolio to continue the conversation with me!

Author bio: Dr. Lauren Nahas has a PhD in English from the University of Texas at Austin.  She is a full-time adjunct in the San Francisco Bay Area.

This post continues our series Confessions of a Full-Time Adjunct.

If you read my last post, Adjuncting 101, and you still want to be an adjunct at community colleges, below I’m offering my best advice for getting adjunct work after 16 years in the business.

But first of all, let’s be clear. I am an adjunct. I’ve never been on a hiring committee for adjunct positions (or any hiring committee for that matter), so what you’re getting here is an outsider’s view—or rather, a candidate’s view. I don’t know the reasons why community college department chairs do what they do—although it sure is fun to speculate! What I’m presenting below is my understanding of the process and what has worked for me. This is the advice I give to new adjuncts (in our super-fun, shared offices) who are looking for more work.

Adjuncts are often hired at the last minute (when the department is under stress to staff sections due to unexpected changes in staffing or to increase enrollment). The hiring process can be somewhat ad hoc at times, but it depends on the college (whether it’s a community college, state college, private university, or major research university), and the situation the department is facing in terms of staffing.   

The basic process of adjunct hiring is that you apply to an adjunct “pool” because departments need a range of people to call when a course needs staffing last minute.  Some schools are constantly taking applications for their adjunct pool, others—usually more selective schools in my experience—only open their adjunct pool for new applications when necessary. In the latter case, you have to be watching their employment website. When I wanted to get work with a particular school, I would bookmark their employment website and check it periodically for the adjunct pool openings. 

Once you’ve submitted your application—which can range from very simple (just a CV and cover letter) to more traditional for academic positions (CV, cover letter, teaching philosophy, sample syllabus and so forth)—there are two general interview scenarios that you might encounter.

Scenario #1

Sometimes the department knows in advance that they need multiple new instructors.  In that case they do a pretty traditional interview situation with a hiring committee, and in the case of community colleges, the interview might include a writing sample or a teaching demonstration. The specifics of the interview will depend a lot on the field.  For example, it’s pretty common for English Departments to ask candidates to grade a sample student essay and then explain the rationale for their comments and grade as part of the interview.

Scenario #2

If the department is caught with last-minute unstaffed sections, the interview can be much more informal. Several times, I’ve gotten jobs after nothing more than a very brief meeting with the chair.

Because of the latter interview scenario, my number one piece of advice for getting adjunct work is to make yourself visible at key times.    

After your CV is part of that adjunct pool, there are key times of the year when you want to remind the department chair of your target community college of your existence.  The sweet spots, in my opinion, are in the middle of the summer for fall work, and October or November for spring hiring. Those are the times when I advise you email the chair something very short and sweet, like, “I just wanted to let you know that I am still available to teach classes this fall if you have any unstaffed sections. I have already submitted my materials to HR, but attached is my CV for your reference.”  

I was advised to take this approach by the chair in a department that I worked for early in my career.  It’s gotten me a new job on several occasions. It’s all about maintaining contact, but not being annoying.

To conclude, my other general piece of advice is: Go do something else!  I’m only half-kidding. I love teaching where I teach, but honestly, I wish I’d made different choices early on, or at least had a better sense of how you can get sort of sucked into the cycle of adjunct work. My advice is that if you want to teach, teach a class on the side while you pursue other things that can provide you with more stable employment.  Have an exit plan and make sure that it doesn’t involve getting a full-time faculty position.

Author bio: Dr. Lauren Nahas has a PhD in English from the University of Texas at Austin.  She is a full-time adjunct in the San Francisco Bay Area.

This post begins our new series Confessions of a Full-Time Adjunct.

Hi. I’m Dr. Lauren Nahas, and I’ve made my living as a full-time adjunct for about 10 years. Yep, the job that all academics fear. This blog post kicks off a new series where I’ll explain my deep love for working at community colleges (CCs) and the realities of my career as an adjunct.  

In this post, I’ll start with adjuncting 101. If your search for a tenure-track position isn’t going as planned (I feel you on that), and you’re considering adjunct work, below I’m offering some general information that you should understand about how adjuncting works.

I want to be clear, though, adjuncting is a highly problematic job. I think that the over-use of adjuncts is undermining the higher education system in many ways.  However, that’s not my purpose here. Adjuncting is a pretty strange job and information-sharing between adjuncts is one of the main ways to navigate it successfully. So here goes.

First off, my understanding is that the more GE-level courses offered in your field, the more reliable the adjunct work is. I’m in English where they have to staff a large number of first-year writing classes, so the work is pretty steady in my experience (in 10 years of adjuncting I’ve lost a course due to low enrollment only 3 times). However, friends of mine who work in theater, for example, have less employment stability.  

Second, as you probably know, you can adjunct at two-year and four-year colleges  In my experience, most people who make this their full-time job work at a mixture of the two. 

Just a quick terminology lesson: community colleges (CCs) refer to part-time teachers as adjuncts; four-year colleges generally refer to them as lecturers.  

In my experience (and based on what adjuncts at other institutions report), CCs tend to pay better than four-year colleges, but they have worse benefits.  However, four-year colleges don’t have the load limits that CCs do. So, let’s talk about load limits.

Load limits at community colleges

At every CC where I have worked, the District capped the percentage of full-time that an adjunct can work at about 65%. Usually, that meant teaching no more than two, 4-unit courses. However, that limitation applies district-wide. Usually there are several different colleges in one district. For example, there are three different colleges in the Contra Costa Community College District, a CC district I sometimes work for in California.  Geographically, they are pretty close to each other. So it is a huge bummer that an adjunct can’t teach more than those two, 4-unit classes district-wide. 

That means, that you would have to piece together work between different CC districts, which can push the driving time between schools to an unsustainable level. You would basically be driving between different local counties, since CC districts are county-based. So, adjuncts strategically select colleges that they work for to account for this issue. 

This is where working for a CC and a local four-year college comes in. Where I work in the San Francisco Bay Area, there are lots of California State Colleges to choose from, and many of my adjunct colleagues create a “full-time” job by piecing together classes from both a CC and a local four-year school. In my experience, the four-year colleges don’t place limits on workload, so someone can be a full-time lecturer, but it would probably take several years to get your teaching assignment up to a full-time load (about 15-16 units).

Navigating benefits

Another major concern for adjuncts is the benefits situation. Here, again, there are variations between different types of schools.  

At CCs, there is usually a waiting period associated with benefits. In general, adjuncts at CCs aren’t eligible for health insurance benefits until they’ve worked for that CC district for 2 years or so. Once you get to that point, the monthly out-of-pocket costs can vary widely. For example, at one CC my monthly contribution for health insurance for my family was $300 a month. At the other CC I was working at, it would have cost $800 a month, and untenable amount for most people. All of this depends on the particular district’s negotiations with the faculty union. 

At the California State Colleges, the situation is better. As long as you are teaching six units, health insurance is free or very cheap. I’m unsure about the situation at private universities or at public institutions outside of California, but this recent article in The Atlantic makes me suspect that health benefits for adjuncts are either non-existent or made inaccessible by high employee contributions.  

Juggling schedules while adjuncting

Juggling schedules for different schools is just a basic part of being an adjunct. It’s not fun. Different schools ask for my scheduling preferences at different times. During my early years of adjuncting, I always tried to schedule all my classes at one school in a block. So, for example, since I was new and so low on the priority list, they would offer me what was left on the schedule. I would select courses that were back-to-back if possible. Ideally I would teach from 8 a.m.-noon (2, 2-hour classes) Monday/Wednesday at one school. That would leave plenty of space in my schedule to accept courses from the second school when they got around to making course offers.  

Adding in a third school into this equation is a little bananas, but people do it. Basically, in your early years with a school, if you’re trying to put together a full-time schedule, expect to have a terrible schedule that will have you moving from one school to another on the same day and possibly having to teach both very early and very late courses in one day.  However, as you get some years with a school under your belt, you will have better options and more predictable employment.  

If all of that juggling sounds terrible, that’s because it is. I’ve personally decided that the upsides of teaching out-weigh these issues. But I do think it’s important that people who are considering adjunct work understand that juggling different schools and their quirks is a basic element of the job.  

Author bio: Dr. Lauren Nahas has a PhD in English from the University of Texas at Austin.  She is a full-time adjunct in the San Francisco Bay Area.