By Susan Ott
Teaching college can be a fulfilling career step for current teachers who want a more flexible schedule and a new challenge in their work. College courses generally require teaching deeper subject matter than K-12, and draw on an individual’s expertise in a given field just as much as, if not more than, one’s teaching credentials and experience. For teachers who still enjoy teaching but feel they need a change, transitioning to teaching at the college level may be the right step.
College students are usually there by choice instead of obligation and a bit more mature and therefore easier to relate to. As a college professor, you’ll also have a flexible teaching schedule and be paid beyond your salary and benefits; professors are usually compensated for research and publication, as well as many times given travel allowances or other compensation as they learn more in their chosen fields. So even though they’re not unionized, they can negotiate for more attractive and flexible immediate pay packages than their K-12 counterparts (though unionized K-12 teachers usually have more comprehensive benefit and pension packages). There are, however, different qualifications one needs to teach college. Find out the steps you can take to transition into a new career teaching college.
Acquire Advanced Education
In order to teach at the college level, you’ll need a master’s degree; more prestigious institutions or those with a 4-year tenure track will require you to earn your PhD as well. Unlike getting your master’s to continue teaching at the elementary or secondary level, you shouldn’t get a master’s in education, but instead obtain a graduate degree in the field of study in which you want to teach (math, science, history, etc.) The caveat to this rule would exist, however, if you wish to teach in the education department at a college or university. Then, a master’s or PhD within the field of education would be appropriate. Most college professors are not even required to have a teaching certificate, so your teaching background can prove advantageous as you make this career switch, since you already have experience in the classroom.
Become a Specialist In Your Field
College professors are expected to possess a certain level of expertise in their field. Students (and their parents) are paying large sums of money for an education that will hopefully land them a job, so the stakes are high. Make sure that you have advanced knowledge in your field of study, as well as professional training and enrichment within that subject area. This could include: additional research, professional conferences, a side business, an official affiliation with a legitimate groups or organization within the field, or extensive teaching experience on the subject matter. If you feel you’re lacking in this area, use the time you’re going back to school to up your expertise. The more knowledge and experience you possess, the more attractive job candidate you are.
Complete Steady Research Work
One of the perks of being a college professor is that you are able to have a flexible schedule and teach fewer hours than a traditional K-12 teacher. However, one of the main reasons for this is that you are expected to continue to research and write about your subject area. Many professors pursue publication of their scholarly work quite regularly in journals and other academic periodicals. Staying current in your field through research and publication is an attractive quality for a postsecondary professional, and can lead to bigger and better job opportunities. (Though on-the-job experience is also quite attractive for certain fields, such as in the sciences.) If you find this intimidating, start practicing while you earn your master’s or PhD. Getting experience and practice helps build confidence and gives you more to show prospective employers upon graduation. Then, once you get a job, you won’t be so rusty. Another option is to teach at a 2-year community college where the mandate for continuing research isn’t nearly as high, yet you can still get tenure.
Become a Graduate TA
A great way to gain experience as a college professor is to get a position as a TA, or Teacher’s Assistant. TAs are graduate students who work part time teaching, grading, and assisting in lower level college classes, usually within the field from which they are earning their graduate degree. This can be an excellent way to gain experience from and rapport with your college or university while earning your graduate degree to further your career. You probably already have a solid foundation in teaching techniques, but college level teaching is a bit different, and this experience will show you that. While this is not a requirement to getting a job teaching at the college level, it’s certainly a boost on your resume.
Above all, make sure you really want to make the transition to teaching college before you begin your graduate program. Graduate programs for future professors usually have different classes—resulting in different majors—than graduate programs for K-12 teachers, so it’s important to solidify your plans before you start to save yourself time and money. Teaching at the college level can be a challenging, growing experience, perfect for teachers who are searching for something more. While it may seem intimidating at first, if you follow each step, you’ll learn as you go and potentially discover a better career for yourself in the process.