Community College Basics for University Professors

How difficult is it for an experienced university instructor to teach at a community college? What are the characteristics of a good community college instructor?  These are the questions a university professor moving to a community college teaching position should ask.

Now What Do I Do?

An experienced university teacher recently started a discussion in one of my LinkedIn groups.  (No, that is not a picture of her.)  She indicated that she was starting a new position at a community college and wanted to learn more about the needs and strengths of adult non-traditional learners.  The first group member to respond recommended Making Sense of Adult Learning by Dorothy Mackeracher.  (I have not read this book, but if any of you have, let me know what you think.  The customer evaluations were very good.)  The second group member to respond referred to Malcolm Knowles and listed a few journal articles.  I have read one of Knowles books.  It was about 10 years ago, and I think it was The Modern Practice of Adult Education: From Pedagogy to Andragogy.  Everyone who writes about adult learning theory includes some reference to Knowles.  I think it’s a law in some states.  😉

So, how do you think I responded?  If you have been reading my articles, you can probably guess.  Sure, I like to sound like a intellect and make reference to famous authors (kind of like I did above 🙁 ), but that is not the way I approached this lady’s query.  Before I get into that, let me tell you a little more about what she wrote.

This person has been a chemistry teacher at a “Tier 1” university whose experience was with 18 to 20 year-olds whom she described as highly motivated traditional students.

The fact that she is looking for advice bodes well for her.  The fact that she was only asking for information about the “needs and strengths” of community college students, coupled with her prior experience, concerned me.  I gave her some advice that she really needs to know.  If you have been a reader of mine for some time, you know I have a lot to say on this topic.  That includes one thing I tell every new adjunct I hire, “Anyone can teach at a research university; you have to be good to teach at a community college.”

So, I was a bit self-serving and referred her to Adjunct Assistance knowing full well that no self-respecting Tier 1 university professor would frequent my website.  Just kidding!!!  I know that many of you readers are just that, and I thank you for indulging me!

Anyway, here is some of the advice I gave her in my reply (in addition to the URL of course):

  • Focus on your classroom management skills.  References: Ever Want to Wring a Student’s Neck and The Case of the Cantankerous Canary and How to Assure Classroom Civility and Decorum .
  • Non-traditional community college students tend to be more motivated and serious about their education than recent high school graduates.
  • Recent high school graduates “forced” to take an entry level general education science course my need remedial help with basic math.
  • Be equitable in all you do, grading policy in particular.
  • Teach to the middle of the class. Challenge those at the top with extra work and/or partner them with those having difficulty.

I hope that she is not too shocked by the lack of motivation she may see from a few of her traditional college students.  It sounds like she all her students have been motivated learners.  If she has been teaching chemistry to pre-med students at Harvard, she may be in for a bit of a surprise.

On the other hand, she may be pleasantly surprised.  I have had full-time university instructors tell me that the students they teach at our college are more motivated and better behaved than their university daytime students.  The difference may be that those instructors are teaching entry level courses to traditional students.  By teaching at our community college in the evening, they are much more likely to get returning adult students.

Let me know if you have any advice for me to pass along to this lady.

© 2010 Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

October 9, 2010

About Dr. Paul A. Hummel, Ed.D.

My name is Paul Hummel, and I often introduce myself to others as a recovering engineer. If you are familiar with the Dilbert cartoons, let me simply say that I lived all of that. I started my college saga at Illinois Institute of Technology. Eventually, I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Master’s Degree in Engineering Management. I worked for many years in industry, and during this time I did some college adjunct teaching. During my career I held several managerial positions in industry, the last as Director of Technology of a division of a Fortune 500 corporation. Then, in 1996, with minimal planning or forethought, I found myself working as a manufacturing consultant on behalf of Elgin Community College (ECC). My career in higher education began to take shape. I fell in love with ECC and with the mission of community colleges in general. I worked fulltime and occasionally taught college courses for my institution and two other colleges. After a couple years I set a goal to move over to the “credit side of the college” and eventually become a college administrator. In 2006, having earned my doctorate in education, I achieved that goal. I was hired by Waubonsee Community College as Dean for Technology, Mathematics and Physical Sciences. I have had the great fortune of working at two excellent colleges. The insights I want to share are drawn from the various college positions I have held. At ECC, in addition to my consulting role, I coordinated non-credit professional development training programs for three years and spent four years advising students in the TRiO Student Support Services program. That position helped me understand college education from the perspective of today’s college students. After seven years at Waubonsee, I retired April 30, 2013. I now devote my knowledge and skills to upgrading and expanding the websites I created beginning with Adjunct Assistance. I have three other websites: College Teaching Tips, Keys for College Success and Lighthouse for Learning. A lot of work lies ahead for me in terms of upgrading and expanding each of these websites, but I could not be more excited about fulfilling the vision I have for helping college instructors and their students succeed.

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