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Why Teach at a Community College?

If you are even considering the question “Why Teach at a Community College” you are probably already talking it over with your significant other, making a campus call or two or talking to others who have actually taken up that occupation for at least a semester. But honestly, if you want to get a helpful look at why teaching community college can be a wise career choice for you, just turn in a few times to NBC’s sit-com “Community”.

Oh sure you’ll laugh at the silly things students and staff do at Green whatever Community College. It’s a fun show and meant to entertain. But underneath the thick layer of comedy, if you take a moment you can also see that there are some very substantive reasons why teaching at community college might be exactly the job you have been looking for.

Immediately obvious is the fact that most community colleges can nearly guarantee a wide diversity of students. While some four year institutions can seem to welcome look alike preppy types, community colleges turn out to be training grounds for every gender,race, faith, ethnicity, age or political bent you can imagine. But the diversity doesn’t stop there.

Those who come to community college are often people who have widely divergent goals. Some people are trying to take control of their young lives and get themselves together. Some have finally got the funding to go to a four year college but they need a little more academic preparation before they get there. Some are trying to succeed in the US but are working from the perspective of a second language and culture. Some are trying not to fall through the cracks. Some are just trying to satisfy the yearning of their parents and are mostly searching to find a goal worth pursuing.

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The real diversity of a community college setting is one of the mainstay themes on the show “Community”. The “Spanish study group” features men and women, people of all faiths and no faith, old and young and a variety of ethnic and racial types. It is a microcosm of what you will find when teaching at a community college.

If you want to teach in the midst of this collection of goals and aspirations, if you love these kinds of challenges, if you like to add the role of unpaid life coach to that of paid teacher, well a community college is a good place to begin.

As I watched “Community” the first few times I was amazed at the tiny size of classes. How could this be, I thought. After all some people go to community college because it costs less than a four year college, so, I reasoned how can community colleges really afford to offer such small classes? Was this just a construct for the show? Then I talked to my daughter who teaches at a community college outside of Chicago. She told me one of her classes this year is made up of 8 students and none have more than 18.

If you are considering teaching at a community college you’ll want to investigate the size of classes you would be asked to teach. But it is safe to assume that they would likely be on the small size. This means, if it’s your thing, you can really get into the business of making an academic difference in the lives of the young people you teach.

Teaching at a community college is thought by some to be the bottom of the barrel. The reasoning is of course that if you were an outstanding teacher with all kinds of professorial ability you would be teaching at a four year college. Truth is there are plenty of negatives to be found at high powered four year colleges. If you don’t like pressure, don’t want to get caught in the “publish or perish” cycle, don’t want to be swamped by student demands maybe a four year college is not for you.

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Besides teaching at a community college, while it may effect the way outsiders evaluate you, doesn’t have to effect your own abilities. You are still free to be as good a teacher as you can be, in fact sometimes you are more free because of fewer departmental constraints. Yes there are people who teach at community colleges and just phone it in. But in attending two different 4 year colleges I can tell you there are plenty of professors at that level who phone it in as well. Prof. Chang, the Spanish teacher on ‘ Community” provides some wonderful comic moments for the audience with his unorthodox teaching methods. But if you want to teach at a community college you’ll find there are also plenty of dedicated and competent teachers, you get to decide how good you want to be.

One of the really exciting things about any kind of teaching assignment and the reason that many people choose teaching careers is that it is a pathway to really making a difference. So many students at community college have had roadblocks thrown in their way, so many have put roadblocks in their own way, that you will have no difficulty in finding people in whose lives you can make a real difference.

You may make a difference by teaching an excellent introductory English class or you may make a difference by just encouraging regular and prompt attendance. But not making a difference in some one of your students lives at a community college is seldom a real option. Opportunities to act in a way that will positively effect the life of another should honestly be part of the job description for community college instructors.

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Finally teaching at the community college level gives you incredible flexibility in the present and the future. Working as an adjunct right now will allow you to make some money, get your feet wet in the world of education and discover if you and teaching are meant to be intertwined. What you do this year or for a few years doesn’t have to be what you do for a lifetime – but it can be. You can teach for a year and leave. Or you might decide to add more classes next year or apply to teach at a four year college. In the meantime you will be picking up valuable experience and adding to your resume.

If you have the credentials to teach at the community college level and can fit it into your schedule don’t let the silly antics seen on “Community ” get in your way. Look beneath the plot and see all the really good things that await those who decide to teach community college.