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Teaching at community college

  1. Apr 21, 2008 #1
    I am thinking of teaching at some small college physics/math/cosmology/astronomy courses as career. I am not interested in position at research university - simply don't care about applying for grants and pretending I am doing research by publishing crappy papers.

    Can somebody with teaching experience at small college offer me pro's and con's? I am interested in the usual salary/benefits, workload (how many courses per quarter), stress at work to meet requirements, do I have to work in the summer quarter etc.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 22, 2008 #2


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    Among non-"research universities", there are "community colleges" and "liberal-arts colleges".

    I am on the "liberal-arts college" career path.
    I do want to apply for some grants and do some research [which is expected for tenure]... but not lose the emphasis on teaching (at a place that will appreciate the emphasis on teaching without overloading me on it]).

    I don't think I can answer your questions thoroughly in this post... but I'll try to address some. Maybe someone else can add on.

    Regular teaching load in a typical semester can vary from, say, (1 lecture plus 2 labs) up to (4 lectures plus some labs)... depending on the institution (i.e. department size, department focus, institutional endowment, etc...).

    Most positions have 9- or 10-month contracts. So, you can choose how to spend your summer. In some places, there may be an opportunity to teach summer courses.
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2008
  4. Apr 22, 2008 #3

    Tom Mattson

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    I teach at a community college, but only so that I can go back to school (it's very flexible where I am).

    The pros:

    1.) There is zero stress. Because the courses are only at the sophomore level and below, none of them are particularly demanding (except for Electric Circuits, but I only teach that once a year anyway). For the most part I don't even use lecture notes anymore. I just go in and start talking.

    2.) You can earn extra $$$ in the summer time. To answer your question: No, summer teaching is not required. But many people here do take advantage of the extra cash by doing it. I am teaching 3 courses this summer.

    The cons:

    1.) This is the most boring job in the world. Teaching the same thing year after mind-numbing year would drive me nuts if I didn't know there was a light at the end of the tunnel (I am going to finish my PhD and then hopefully work at a university).

    2.) The vast majority of the students who come here believe that they have begun the 13th grade, as opposed to their freshman year of college. Last week when I was teaching, a student just blurted out, "When are we ever going to have to know this stuff?" Unbelievable.

    All in all: This is a good job to have while I'm going to school, but I would hate to do it as a career.
  5. Apr 22, 2008 #4

    Andy Resnick

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    I (and several of my colleagues) have done part-time teaching at local commuity colleges for extra cash. It's referred to as "adjunct faculty", and it can be a very enjoyable experience.
  6. Apr 22, 2008 #5
    Thanks for the answers - I was beginning to think nobody will answer :)

    How is the payment per month, in the beginning and maximum salary and how long it takes for the maximum to be achieved?

    Robphy, do you find the physics courses at liberal arts a little fluffy? I was going to substitute someone at liberal arts college in astronomy course and it was all words with almost no formulas. Also is it true that you have to inflate the grades to keep the students happy? When I am teaching assistant at reasearch university, the below average students always complain that i'm a 'harsh grader' - translation: I give zero points for 10 pages of nonsense :)
  7. Apr 22, 2008 #6


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    Here is the recent salary survey: http://chronicle.com/stats/aaup/

    Concerning the level of courses... it really depends on the goals of the course... and the ability of the students in that course. For example, among physics courses... there is a range from "conceptual" courses, to "algebra-based", to various levels of "calculus-based".... again depending on the institution. I know of one place that has three levels of calculus-based introductory physics.
  8. Apr 22, 2008 #7


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    I teach at roughly a canadian equivalent of an american liberal arts college. The system is a bit different than in the US. We have students in the science concentration and in non-science concentration. The science students are students preparing to go to university in science or med school or engineering. They are usually good kids although some still need to mature a bit when they get here. When I teach astronomy to non-science stduents, it's a pain. They are scared by even the simplest formula, complain whenever some effort is required from them and I need to boost the marks so that half don't fail. half of them make almost no effort to study for the tests. And they don't listen in class. teaching science students is more enjoyable but after a couple of years of teaching basic mechanics and elctricity it gets very boring.
    I took a voluntary 25 % reduction of workload (and salary) a year ago to be able to do reserach). The first few years I was here, a full load meant about 60 hours a week of work for me and I was always exhausted. Now with my pay cut I get about 32000 for my take-home pay.

    I don't agree that it's a low stress job, however. For me at least, it's quite stressful. It's stressful to have some students complaining sometimes. It's stressful to teach and see students basically sleeping in your face. It's stressful to have 60 assignments and 30 lab reports to mark every week (when I had a full load). It's stressful to give a test and to see the students coming out all disgruntled and mad because they found it too hard, too long, unfair, etc. well, my skin got thicker with time but I still don't enjoy the whole grading aspect. And it's a pain to teach stuff to students who don't care.

    I enjoyed private tutoring much more because the students see you as someone there to help them as opposed to being the enemy (when you are the teacher). And they pay out of their pocket so they pay attention!

    I would enjoy much more teaching at a university with a mix of graduate level courses and undergraduate level courses. That would help me stay sane.
  9. Apr 23, 2008 #8
    What could be done when choosing a college to apply to, to guess if they will make you teach fluffy courses for non-science concentration? How would you do it if you had the chance to do it again?
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