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I'm interested in teaching a class at the community college level. I'm not interested in it as a career, but rather because I like teaching people about computer science. How likely is it that I would be able to teach a evening class at a local community college with a masters degree (Computer Science).

I don't have a lot of formal experience teaching (TA/tutoring). I spent most of my time doing research in the lab, but during that time I mentored/managed/herded a number of undergrads.

Maybe being a TA would be a nice way to get my feet wet and see if it's for me. Is that possible, now that I've already graduated?

I have a regular 9-6 job that I would have to work around.

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    This is an interesting question. With the increasingly large number of PhDs who can't get jobs at 4 year Universities, how hard is it to get a community college teaching job with just a masters degree in STEM fields? This is likely to be field specific, but we should try and address as many fields as we can in the answer to this question, even though the OP is just interested in computer science. – WetlabStudent Feb 14 '14 at 0:21
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    It might be as easy as anything else to just apply and see what happens. – Nate Eldredge Feb 26 '14 at 5:15
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    A member of my lab taught a few classes at a four year college with just a Master's, so you shouldn't have a problem. – Austin Henley Feb 27 '14 at 5:47
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I teach physics at a community college and have been on a number of hiring committees for full-time positions, as well as participating in a bunch of hires of part-timers. Different departments and different individuals have different priorities. Some full-timers who have a master's might actually feel threatened by a PhD applying for a part-time position. Often we get applications, for both full- and part-time positions, from people with PhD's that clearly show that the applicant has no real interest in teaching and thinks it should be easy to get a community college job as a fallback. A PhD will typically be somewhat of an advantage in applying for a part-time job, especially if the course to be taught is at a high academic level (e.g., differential equations). The bigger problem is your lack of teaching experience.

There is a lot of randomness involved, and you can maximize your chances if you're in a big urban area and apply for a lot of jobs. Sometimes a full-timer gets sick or there is some other last-minute reason to hire someone to teach a class. In these emergency situations, you basically have to be available, meet the minimum qualifications, and give a non-disastrous interview.

The fact that you want to teach in the evening is a good thing. Many full-timers don't want to teach evening classes, so often those are the hardest to find a teacher for.

I think MHH is right that this discussion is going to be more valuable if we widen it to include full-time positions. For full-time positions, the value of a PhD seems to vary greatly. At my school, for example, the math department has 3 PhD's and 27 people with masters', while the natural science division has 21 with PhD's and 11 with masters'. One department clearly considers a PhD more important than the other does. This may be partly because the math department's offerings are bottom-heavy with remedial classes. For a full-time position, there will typically be a list of minimum qualifications, which are set by law, and a list of desirable qualifications. The two biggies on the list of desirable qualifications are teaching experience and a PhD. It helps if you have both.

When we hire for a part-time position, we're hiring someone to teach a specific course. If the course is low level, then we don't care as much about whether the candidate has a PhD. When we hire a full-timer, theoretically we want someone who can teach every course their department offers, but realistically we usually have something more specific in mind. When someone with a master's is hired full-time, usually that person ends up getting slotted into teaching gen ed courses, remedial courses, or other low-level courses for the rest of their career. Many people are very happy in such a slot, e.g., I hear that many folks in math see teaching remedial math as their ideal job, and they have no interest at all in teaching calculus.

  • A very good answer this. I have a flipside (perhaps) to this that you may be able to throw some light on. I am a "temp" at a doctorate granting university. I have a PhD and I generally end up teaching "leftovers". Right across from my (mechanical engineering) department, the math department hires Masters holding candidates for full time positions at ranks above me. So yes, the disparity between departmental requirements would seem to exist not just a 4-yr or community colleges. – dearN Feb 27 '14 at 11:46
  • to the importance of a degree must be added the criterion of who's in the pool. in my CC computer science department, we have only one instructor with a PhD; there's much more money to be made in industry. – Aaron Brick Jan 25 '15 at 4:41
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My parents met in English graduate school. They became more enamored of each other than their program, so they each got out with Master's degrees and taught community college (full time, at the "associate professor" level) for many years. This was a little while ago, though; my father passed away in 2000 and my mother has been retired for about ten years.

In my parents' day, some of their colleagues had PhDs, and my understanding is that the main reason that they never had the academic rank of "full professor" was the lack of a PhD. (Nevertheless salaries were decent, based in part on a strong teachers' union, in which my father played a key role way back when.) Degree inflation in academia is an ongoing process, and I would expect that a higher percentage of community college faculty have PhDs than before. Also the precise meaning of the term "community college" varies quite a lot from one region of the United States to another. I now live in Georgia and eventually noticed that almost nothing is called "community college" around here, but some PhD graduates from my department (mathematics, UGA) go into to teach in what I think are, more or less, what would in other regions be called "community college".

I think the fact that your goal is to teach some courses rather than have a permanent job / get benefits / get a competitive salary makes your goal much more reasonable. Most community colleges have a substantial percentage of "adjuncts"; in my understanding it is quite rare for these people to have PhDs. Wanting to teach courses at night should also make you desirable -- more in some areas than others, but overall it is a definite positive. Also, I would have to think that just about any academic institution in the country teaches courses on computers at this point, so that's a good choice too (the number of people who know something about computers is also quite large, but having a master's degree should get you in the door).

Maybe you know this already, but many courses at the community college level are at the level of a high school course: e.g. many community colleges offer no mathematics course more advanced than "business calculus". (This of course does not mean that such classes cannot have significant intellectual content or that you won't sometimes get very good students: they can and you will. As Richard Feynman liked to say, "We are not that much smarter than each other.") You should check to make sure that what they mean by "computer science classes" is compatible with the courses that the institution(s) is offering: as above, this will probably vary significantly from one place to another.

But overall, what you suggest sounds very possible, sounds like it could be fun, and sounds like you will be rendering a real service to people. I hope it works out for you: good luck.

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My mother teaches English at a community college. I know her TA graduated from a different university. Her TA is also my best friend from kindergarten and after said TA's parents died, my mother has been very involved in her TA's life. So I know that it is possible to TA after you've graduated, but it would help to have some connection to the college. However, there might be more of a demand for TAs in CS than in my mother's field.

One way to "get your foot in" might be to take classes at the college. My mom had applied for jobs at this college for years, but it was only after she took a few classes that she got her job. Her classes were in other departments, but when her professors found out she was interested in working there, they introduced her to people in the English department. Suddenly she wasn't "random applicant", but rather "that person my friend introduced me to and I had that nice conversation with".

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