My Journey From Degree to Experience
There are two things that people quickly learn upon graduation with a post-secondary degree: 1) A job after graduation is not guaranteed and 2) you might have the degree but it’s nearly impossible to land the job without teaching experience.
When I graduated with my MFA in Creative Writing, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it. I wanted to teach creative writing. With publishing/ghostwriting/editorial experience, a published novel under my belt, and an MFA in Creative Writing, I had no doubt that institutions would jump at the chance to have me on board. Boy, was I in for a rude awakening.
As I surfed the internet for Creative Writing vacancies, I noticed that it’s much harder to land a position as a Creative Writing Instructor than it was to get one as an English instructor. The problem here was that I didn’t have enough English graduate hours (at least 18) because my degree was predominantly creative writing classes. So, I went back to school and got an MA in English.
Now, with an MFA in Creative Writing and an MA in English, certainly no institution in its right state of mind would turn me down, right? Wrong!
Every application that I came across required at least 3-5 years of teaching experience. Some applications required 1-2 years of teaching experience. The problem was that I had ZERO years of teaching experience, and unless someone hired me, I would NEVER have teaching experience.
My husband told me to apply anyway. So I did and received very nice rejection letters informing me that HR had decided to choose a more qualified candidate. How would I ever land a teaching job this way?
Start Small, Then Go Big
Start Small, Then Go Big
Though I grew very discouraged, I still did not give up. One day, I saw an opening for an adjunct English instructor position at a career college. Career colleges are colleges that offer classes geared toward a specific career, like medical office assistant, phlebotomist, truck driving, cosmetology, paralegal, etc. I couldn’t believe my eyes. As I reviewed the qualifications for this position over and over again, I was elated to see that nowhere in the qualifications did they require you to have teaching experience. So I submitted my resume and shortly afterward, I was contacted for an interview.
Horrific Pay, Stressful Environment
I signed on to this career college, excited and relieved that after four failed interviews, I finally got the position! My excitement finally fizzed out when I learned how much I would be making. Upon sign-on, I would be making $1100 per class per quarter. This might sound like a lot of money, but let’s do the calculations. If I’m giving one class to teach for the quarter, that’s only $1100. A quarter lasts 12 weeks. That equates to $92 per week. What is $92 per week? Gas money to make it to work and a combo or two from McDonald’s.
I was so humiliated by the meager pay that I was going to quit. My husband urged me to stay there because maybe they would give me more classes eventually. He was right. We got a $100 raise (so now it’s $1200/class/quarter), and they gave me 4 classes the next quarter. So now I was making $1200 x 4 classes = $4800 ÷ 12 weeks = $400/week.
While this was MUCH better than $92/week, it still wasn’t what I was expecting for a professional career. Furthermore, juggling 4 classes with about 28-35 students per class was no simple task (especially for an English instructor who has to read/grade so many essays). Yet and still, I toughed it out.
The environment at that school was nightmarish. The assessment process that they used to bring in students was ineffective because sometimes, we would end up with students who could barely spell their name correctly, let alone write an entire essay. But that’s a whole other monster that I will describe in great detail when I finish the hub: “The Pros & Cons of Working for a Career College (For-Profit/Vocational/Technical).” Let’s just say the employee turnover rate was so high at this school that 9 out of 10 instructors were actively seeking employment elsewhere or had already turned in their letter of resignation—some instructors even quit on the spot. LITERALLY. Simply grabbed their things and walked out of a classroom full of students, never to return again. (Yes, I know this sounds unprofessional, but if you only knew the extent of what the instructors had to endure from the student body, the administrative heads, and the taxing, ever-increasing responsibilities at this place, you would better understand.
It Wasn't All Bad
I stayed at that college for two years and though there were many downsides to the situation, I focused on the great things that I learned. My experience there taught me how to effectively facilitate a classroom. It taught me how to organize my lectures and present them in a way that the students were able to follow my logic from beginning to end and reach all the lesson plan objectives for that day. It taught me how adapt my teaching style to the different types of learners as well as how to interact with students who were at different levels in the class. It taught me the importance of compassion and flexibility, how to challenge students who were already at the top and how to coax students on lower levels to perform better. It also taught me how to promote a safe atmosphere, one where students will behave respectfully and professionally. It taught me outreach methods to help struggling students, thereby increasing retention rates. And finally, it taught me various ways to engage with my students so that we could have fun while honing our critical thinking skills.
Career Colleges (for-profit) & Traditional Colleges (non-profit)
|Career (for profit)||Traditional (non-profit)|
University of Phoenix
Western Governors University
Colorado State University
NC State University
University of Houston
University of Kentucky
(every state university is non-profit)
Colorado Tech University
Full Sail University
National American University
Western Career Institute
Upgrading To Better
After spending two years at the career college, I knew my time there was drawing to an end. Now, with years of teaching experience under my belt, I knew that I could effectively apply at other colleges (preferably non-profit) with a heightened possibility of getting the job. Sure enough, 6 months later, a prominent, well-established non-profit university contacted me. I did an over-the-phone interview and I secured the job as an online adjunct English instructor. What amazed me about getting this position was that I had ZERO experience teaching online. They hired me anyway because they said that I could transfer over my experience in the traditional classroom to the virtual one.
My Suggestions to You
I now have both online and traditional teaching experience and I started from square one, just like you. Don’t go for the big dogs first. Your chances of getting on are slim to none. Though applying to teach at the school that you graduated from is a good idea, it usually doesn’t work. Yes, you’re alumni but you don’t have that “magical” teaching experience. Instead, start small. Try the career colleges first. For one, they usually don’t pay as well as bigger universities, and also, the teacher turnover rate is usually pretty high so they’re always in need of an instructor to replace the one that just left. Another suggestion is to try a community college, which doesn’t always require teaching experience. Finally, the old saying is true: it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Do you know someone who is working in a high position at a particular college/university? Perhaps they can use their leverage and connections to get your foot through the door. Whatever the case, don’t give up! Just remember that every teacher, instructor, professor out there started exactly where you are: square one.
© 2014 Jessica B Smith
Isaac Yaw Asiedu Nunoofio from Ghana on November 17, 2016:
I agree with you 1000 percent. Where do they expect young people to get the experience?Manufacture it themselves? Great article!
Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on June 13, 2015:
It's always the ultimate conundrum: you need experience to get hired, but you can't get experience without a job.
Jessica B Smith (author) from Sanford, NC on May 18, 2015:
Thanks for your comment and good luck with your job hunt. Perseverance truly does pay, so keep searching and you'll hit gold eventually!
TheBizWhiz on April 25, 2015:
I am going through the exact same thing right now. I have an MBA, which I got so I could teach, community college level, but I cannot find anything in my area. Unfortunately, I cannot relocate, so my search is limited to an hour around me. I am trying the adjunct online route, but should not hear anything until the summer. Hopefully I can add classes little by little and make a career out of it.
Thanks for writing this Hub. I am glad to know I am not the only one. Voted Up!
Jessica B Smith (author) from Sanford, NC on October 01, 2014:
Thanks for your comment! Yes, it did definitely pay off. And that's why I'm sharing my experience with others. The old saying that you have to start somewhere is true. If your first teaching job is a "sucky" teaching job, see it as an opportunity to gain teaching experience because that is the key that will open the door to much better teaching positions. It's not so much where you got the experience from as it is how many years did you hold that position. Hope that encourages someone!
John Coviello from New Jersey on September 16, 2014:
Very useful and interesting story about how you gained experience in the college teaching field. Unless someone is well connected, and can get a break with their first position, it usually takes a couple of low paying stressful jobs to gain the necessary experience in most fields. I'm glad it all worked out for you Jessica, and the two years at the Career College paid off with a position you are happy holding.