By Sarah Goldberg, Undergraduate Career Development

This January, I headed out to Chicago for the Modern Language Association’s annual convention. The Modern Language Association, or MLA for short, is the professional organization that represents—you guessed it—scholars across modern language disciplines.

Every year, grad students, researchers, faculty, and a smattering of university administrators in English, foreign languages, comparative literature, rhetoric and composition, and cultural studies converge on the convention to share their scholarship, learn about the latest developments in the field and profession, and, for candidates on the academic job market, interview for faculty positions.

And yes, there’s always a chance to get the latest on MLA citation style.

What you may not know about the MLA—and its fellow scholarly organization, the American Historical Association, which also held its annual meeting in Chicago in January—is that it has some really great career-related resources and programming for careers outside of academia.

In this and another post, I’m going to present highlights from two of the sessions I attended. Today, we’re going to talk about community college teaching.

Careers in Community Colleges and the Job Search

In this session, panelists from four schools across the US shared their insights into applying to and working in English and foreign language departments at community colleges.

Why should I consider teaching at a community college?

Here’s one panelist’s pitch: Teaching at a community college is an opportunity to advocate for the humanities and liberal arts. Because community colleges focus on preparatory, general education, you’ll get to work in an interdisciplinary setting with colleagues from many fields.

What would I be teaching at a community college?

In English, you’ll primarily be teaching composition. Thus, in order to be competitive, you’ll need experience teaching composition. You’ll likely also have the opportunity to teach 1–2 literature classes per year, usually a survey course or “that 1 course” in your field.

In foreign languages, similarly, your main focus will be teaching language classes, as well as advanced language and composition courses. You’d likely have the opportunity to teach an occasional literature course.

At panelists’ institutions, full-time faculty do teach online, but the department tries to keep it to 25% or less of your course load.

How does community college hiring work?

Community college professors in modern language fields hold MAs in rhetoric and composition, MFAs, or PhDs. Colleges do generally hire for a particular area within the field.

Panelists were split on whether they hire through a national search or from adjunct pools, and noted that this will also depend position to position.

Panelists advised that the first place to look for jobs is on the college website itself. Beyond that, some panelists posted on industry boards like the MLA Job Information List and HigherEdJobs, while another mentioned local newspapers and diversity-focused websites.

Panelists agreed that most community colleges are open to conducting interviews and teaching demos virtually. Just drop a brief line in your cover letter stating your willingness to interview electronically.

What makes for a compelling application?

As with any job, your aim is to know your audience. Demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of the institution and the community they serve.

Your application materials are a great opportunity to show your knack for clear communication—and, thus, your strong teaching skills. Please, the panelists urged, keep your cover letter to 2 pages.

How does service play into the evaluation of candidates?

In your interview, be prepared to respond to a question like, “What do you think you’ll contribute to the college?”

If you’re currently adjuncting at the institution, this is trickier: while participating on a volunteer basis on department initiatives can make you more interesting as a candidate, you can’t formally serve on department committees, per HR guidelines.

Tips for Teaching Demos: You’ll make it easier for yourself if you teach a lesson you’ve taught before. Showcasing your comfort with educational technology through your demo can also be a potential pro.

What are expectations for tenure?

The requirements for your tenure case will be laid out in your employment contract. They will vary institution to institution.

One panelist described the evaluation at her institution as being based on 1) teaching, 2) service (to college or the public), 3) professional development, and 4) research. Your teaching will be assessed based on a self-evaluation narrative, peer observations, and to a lesser extent, student evaluations.

What other conferences should I have on my radar if I’m interested in community college teaching?

Learn More …

If you want to learn more about teaching careers at community colleges, check out Tara Coleman’s essay “More Than a Plan B.” You can find other career-related resources from the MLA at their online career center or at MLA 2020 in Seattle.

Stay tuned for a second dispatch from MLA 2019, about humanities mindsets for career management.