In the fall semester of 2010, my college began a mentorship program for graduate students interested in becoming community college faculty. I was asked to work with Lee, a very bright young woman in the final semester of her M.A. program. Lee had no previous teaching experience or pedagogical training, but she had tremendous enthusiasm and excellent potential. She sat in on my classes and office hours throughout the semester, discussed assignments, lessons, and classroom procedures with me, and eventually, with my supervision, presented several different types of lessons in class.
At the end of the semester, Lee interviewed for an adjunct position in my department. However, in the current budget climate, we had very few unstaffed courses, and other applicants for the few available spots had significantly more experience and training. Knowing that I had encouraged Lee to apply, the department chair informed me through an email that she was unable to offer my mentee a class. At the end of the email, the chair asked two questions that inspired this article: “How are the people fresh out of graduate school supposed to gain experience if they didn't teach while they were students? Is it our job to teach them how to be teachers?”
In this context, the issue is not about faculty development in the usual sense; of course, we should all participate in activities that help us learn new instructional techniques and grow as professionals. But my chair’s question was not about ongoing professional development for experienced instructors but rather about helping potential faculty members become ready to teach in the first place.
The minimum qualifications for any teaching position in the California community colleges include no requirement involving pedagogical training. Realistically, this situation is as it should be: many of our faculty members, both full- and part-time, in numerous disciplines took their current positions without any formal training as teachers and have had very successful careers. Certainly our hiring pools would be diminished if such a requirement existed, in some cases to such a degree that filling positions would be nearly impossible. This article therefore is not meant to suggest any formal change to the standards through which community college faculty are judged to be qualified to teach.
Instead, the issue at hand involves pedagogical training and guided experience for potential or new faculty members who need and want it. If one does not have the opportunity to work as a teaching assistant or enroll in instructional training in graduate school, then the options are limited. This situation is the dilemma that confronted my mentee, Lee, at the end of our work together: a master’s degree in hand, a bright mind and great potential, but no experience and no formal training other than what she learned from shadowing me for a semester and few options for obtaining that training other than full enrollment in another graduate program.
Training in teaching methodology is more common in some disciplines than in others. In some academic disciplines, graduate students are commonly expected to serve as teaching assistants while they work on their degrees, and many universities offer graduate coursework, practicums, and other training programs designed to assist teaching assistants as they step into their own classrooms for the first time. Yet not all universities offer such opportunities in all disciplines, and some students, for a variety of reasons, may be unable to take advantage of the opportunities that do exist. In addition, not all community college faculty attend universities or enter graduate programs, as the minimum qualifications in some disciplines do not require a bachelor’s degree, and in such cases extensive pedagogical training may be even less likely. While many faculty members in numerous disciplines have become successful and admirable teachers without direct training regarding instructional methods, most of us will remember many disorienting and often frustrating, though exciting, moments from our early careers. While the experience and background provided by a pedagogical training program is in no way a requirement for developing into an effective teacher, certainly such a program would be beneficial to any new or potential faculty member and thus to all students who enter that faculty member’s classroom.
In addition, even those graduate students and others lucky enough to experience programs that offer direct pedagogical training at a university might improve their teaching with further mentoring that would prepare them to work at the community college level. As an English department chair for six years, I saw numerous applicants for part-time positions who had worked as graduate assistants and who were very qualified to teach freshman composition but who were less familiar with the specific issues raised when one is working with basic skills students who read at a sixth grade level and who often have to place the demands of family and work before school. Community college students face different challenges than university students, and thus even potential faculty members who have received pedagogical training might benefit from guidance regarding ways to address the academic needs and personal situations particular to our student population.
Some colleges have developed programs that attempt to address this situation. The newly established mentor program at Long Beach City College pairs a graduate student intern interested in community college teaching with an experienced faculty member for a semester, allowing the intern to observe classes, receive guidance from the mentor, and ultimately participate in teaching the class. The long-standing Project Match program in the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) follows a similar structure, and some other community college districts around the state offer various programs for training potential faculty members.
However, even where such programs exist, they are in many cases limited. The Long Beach City College program, which is still in its pilot stage, served only five interns in its first semester; the LACCD’s Project Match, one of the larger programs of its kind, admits 50 interns per year among its nine colleges but has had as many as 600 applications for those limited spaces. Clearly the demand for such programs exceeds the capacity for admission.
Furthermore, intern programs are limited to applicants with no teaching experience. The Project Match website (http://www.laccd.edu/project_match/) states that applicants must “have no paid college (2 or 4 year) professional teaching experience prior to applying or during the course of the internship,” and such restrictions are common to mentoring programs. Potential faculty members who may have received limited experience at the university level during the course of their graduate study but who could benefit from guidance regarding community college instruction are therefore excluded from such programs and have few options for gaining the training they need.
Thus, in many cases the questions asked by my department chair—who trains potential faculty members that need or desire preparation for teaching as they begin their careers, and is such training the responsibility of our colleges?—have no clear answer. Some programs exist at certain colleges, but they are often limited in scope, do not include many new or aspiring teachers who could benefit from formal guidance and training, and rarely involve direct training in instructional theory or methodology.
The most common term used in discussions of a variety of issues throughout the community college system at present is “student success.” Yet if our greatest concern is truly the success of our students, we should take all available steps to ensure that our faculty is as well-trained and prepared as possible. Each year new, talented part-time instructors enter our classrooms for the first time, many of whom would benefit from additional training and experience that could help them to understand effective pedagogical and classroom management techniques in general and community college students in specific. If our goal is to ensure the success of all of our faculty members, and therefore the success of our students, we should consider assuming the responsibility for offering training to those new instructors who need or want it.
Local senates might choose to work with their faculty development programs and human resource offices to explore avenues for addressing this issue. A coordinated effort involving faculty expertise and administrative support would be necessary to establish and fund an organized approach to training new and potential part-time faculty. Creation of such a program might require significant commitments of time and resources, both of which are in short supply in our current environment. Nevertheless, local conversations about ways to provide training to new part-time instructors who need it are an important aspect of ensuring student success by hiring and where necessary developing the most effective and knowledgeable faculty possible.