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So I guess you could say that I was in the right place at the right time to be able to get my teaching position. I had been a non-working grad student for a while, and then my family decided it was going to be a good idea to open a café in a small town just to the east of where we lived. There was a small, private college in town, and we figured that the café would be a good fit for the environment.
I had just started graduate school at the time, but I had put in my resume at a few local school boards in case they needed anyone. I got no bites since I wasn’t certified to teach public schools; I just had a Bachelor’s degree in English, so the café was pretty much all I had. I really lucked out with the café because not only did we get students from the college two blocks away, we also got administration, faculty, and staff. Over the course of the next few months, I found out that some of our regulars were the academic dean and the chair of the English department.
I decided that it was time to get my foot in the door. I spoke with the chair about doing some adjunct (part-time) work if they needed anyone. I sent her my resume, and I didn’t hear anything back for quite a while. Every time she came in the café, I asked her how the faculty hunt was going (they were searching for a new full-time English professor with a Ph.D.). I always asked her to keep me in mind if they had any positions open and that I was willing toe teach anything. After a few months, once the calendar was finalized and full-time faculty was hired, I got a phone call asking me if I wanted to teach two sections of Basic Writing. It was three weeks before the semester started, I had never taught anything at all before, and I needed a job to replace the café ownership. I said yes. And so I started teaching at the college level before I had finished my Master’s degree.
Now let me set the record straight from something that I was told while working on my Bachelor’s degree. I was told by my advisors that one cannot teach at the college level without a graduate degree of some sort, be it a Master’s degree or a doctorate. This is simply not true. If you have a Bachelor’s degree in any subject, you are qualified to teach non-credit courses at the college level. You are not going to be able to teach even Freshman Composition, but you can teach something that is needed. There is always a need for someone to teach developmental classes.
Developmental or remedial classes are non-credit courses into which a student is placed based on test scores in order to bring them to a level at which they can succeed in the standard courses. Because these classes are developmental, many teachers do not want to teach them. This is your opportunity; there is no better way to get your foot in the door and start an academic career and get teaching experience than to be the one that teaches what few others are willing. Not only will you be getting experience teaching at the college level, you will be showing your superiors and the institution that you have a desire and a willingness to take on challenging course-loads.
I understand that not everyone will be as lucky as I am in having a department chair basically fall into one’s life, so there are steps you can take in order to get your name out into the academic world. Within driving distance of most cities is a community college. Due to the nature of community colleges and the fact that many community college systems have peripheral branches, the need for developmental courses increases. Make yourself known to these institutions. Check local job listings and the colleges’ websites. Even if they don’t have an advertised need for a new adjunct instructor (as in my case), you might find that full-time professors would love to lighten their loads to teach the courses they really love teaching by ditching those which you are qualified for with only a Bachelor’s degree.
Make sure that you have an up-to-date resume to give to the department chair. If there is an application the institution requires, make sure you fill it out and keep it on file. Make an appointment and speak with them about your desire to be a college teacher, and you just want to get some teaching experience at that level. That’s what I did. I had no experience prior to when I started last semester, and now I feel as though I’m getting the grasp of all this. If they say that there are no positions available, be gracious. Say thank you and that you’ll check back. When that semester is over, call them back and see if there have been any job openings, and that you’re still interested. If the answer is still no, wash and rise as successive semesters come and go.
The best thing you can do is keep them apprised of your comings and goings. I let my department chair (before she was my department chair) know of every slight change in my graduation date and thesis schedule. When it changed from a Master’s thesis to comprehensive exams, I let her know, too. I stayed in touch, and let her know that I was really interested in getting my feet wet in an area that is relatively hard to break into because most job postings for academic, college-level positions that I saw required someone to be finished with their Master’s degrees (or Ph.D.’s) and already have some teaching experience, neither of which were on my resume. I didn’t give up. I jumped at the opportunity when it came my way, and I think I have a great thing going that could lead into a full-time position doing something that I absolutely love. Just keep in contact with the people you submit your resume to, and let them know that you’re not just some fly-by-night rookie; you are a dedicated scholar who just needs to be given a chance.
Also, look for Learning/Resource Centers where you can work as a tutor. The best thing I ever did was tell the director at our Student Resource Center that if she needed help with tutoring English that I would be glad to help out. In my mind, I got a few bucks per hour and another bullet on my resume, but it turns out that the SRC community is such that I really gained a mentor and invaluable advice for how the school works. If you have never taught, I highly suggest that you tutor. The one-on-one atmosphere really makes it easier, and I have learned new ways to present information to my class from tutoring session that never would have come to me if not for that environment. It can also show prospective employers that you are serious about helping others if you take any avenue you have to instruct others.
Another way to show that you are serious about being an academic is to present at a conference. There are conferences for any subject area. You can find the majority of English ones at http://cfp.english.upenn.edu/ It doesn’t matter if your interests lie with Shakespeare or Joss Whedon, there is somewhere for you to present your scholarship. I am currently working on a paper on Willy Wonka that has been accepted for presentation at the 2009 Pop Culture Association conference. My girlfriend presented a paper on Firefly earlier this year and is working on another that has been accepted for the same PCA conference I am attending. Presenting at a conference is a great way to show the rest of the academic culture what you are working on, and it also shows prospective employers that you are involved in doing independent research. And if you don’t like the idea of conferences, there are always journals. Look for a conference or journal that says it will take graduate student work (or undergrad, for that matter). In journals, look for publications that are peer reviewed, and conferences which are national rather than regional. Pick a paper that you did really well on or that you think is worth sharing with the world, then start editing it. Even if you’re not done with the revisions, when you find a CFP (Call for Papers) that fits, submit a proposal or abstract, and by the time you hear back from the editor/chair, your paper should be well on its way to being one of the best bullets on your resume.
Just keep in mind that if you only have a Bachelor’s degree, you can still teach college. I am doing it for a living. It may not be the college you want to end up teaching, but you are gaining valuable experience as to how an institution of higher learning functions from the faculty side instead of from a student. Now, teaching adjunct is a really scary way to make a living as classes may not make and those that do might be given to a full-time faculty member, but persevere and you will be a few steps ahead of the game. I am finishing my Master’s degree in May, and I will already have a full year of college-level teaching experience as well as two semesters of tutoring and mixed administrative responsibilities at the SRC that I picked up along the way. The main thing to remember is to make yourself available. No one is going to hire you if they don’t know about you, so go to local colleges, local community colleges, any kind of academy, and see if they can use a part-time teacher. I teach Basic Writing, and while it might not be the most prestigious job in the world, I love what I do, and I am preparing myself for a job as a career academic. All it took was going a little outside my comfort zone and letting my now department chair know that I was really serious about getting some experience. I’m presenting a paper in April, and I’ve got my foot in the door that could lead to a full-time position in the future. And I don’t even have a Master’s degree yet. Just keep in mind that it’s possible.