As graduate students, we know by now that teachers can make or break our classroom experience. I still have foggy nightmares of clapping erasers together during recess, picking gum off lunchroom tables and avoiding the nuns that pull ears—my left ear is still a tiny bit higher than my right.
We’ve come a long way in thirty years, but one thing remains the same; my best teachers are still those who encourage difficult questions, treat students as equals and, most importantly, admit their limitations. In a digital age of transparency, it’s important to note no teacher has all the answers, and many answers lay in students’ pockets.
Many of us carry an automatic fact-checker, record keeper, an infinite encyclopedia—our smart phone—with us everywhere we go. Good teachers use this technology. They teach beyond the facts, and good students understand how the facts influence each other. Teachers who can explain these relationships are more engaging, more fun and overall more successful. As comm-grad students, we are a perfect fit for teaching! We’re tech savvy. We know the importance of working together. We know collaboration builds stronger networks, fosters more creativity and produces better outcomes. Teaching also makes us smarter.
The best way to learn is to teach it. This has a little to do with the practice required to deliver a course and everything to do with the questions your students will ask. Opening your knowledge base to others will expose your weak points. For some, this creates a dictator mentality. Control what the students can question, and never leave your comfort zone. For others, this is a great opportunity to learn. Identify what you don’t know, accept no one knows everything, and explore your field further! This requires confidence and a strong work ethic—the very ingredients needed to make an impact in our world today.
My best courses as an educator are when I am pushed to explain why and how. During my first master’s degree training, I became an expert on the facts. But the facts aren’t all that count anymore. We have to dig deeper, and good students do this. Good students create better teachers. Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle explains this well. Understand why something works and see the connections between the disciplines. Math intersects with science to form the field of medicine. English and journalism intersect with psychology to form the field of communication; nothing is completely defined or static. To find these connections, you need research; you need time; you need students.
So when can you start teaching full time? An easy way to remember faculty requirements is this: on average, faculty need to be two degree levels above the graduates of the institution. More specifically, someone with a master’s degree can teach full time at a two-year college since these students graduate with an associate’s degree. Two community colleges in the Washington DC area currently have adjunct professor openings: University of the District of Columbia is now accepting adjunct positions in all departments, and North Virginia Community College (NOVA) is looking for adjunct faculty for their Communication Technologies & Social Science – English department. Montgomery College is another option but does not have an opening in the communication department at this time. Check back regularly for updates.
Additionally, students who pursue the research track and graduate with a MA can teach entry level courses in their field at a four-year university if they also pursue a doctorate degree. Many universities offer TA—teaching assistant—programs that allow doctoral students to teach during their studies. This is a great opportunity to be a role model for younger students.
What if you would like to teach part-time in addition to your full-time job? There are some opportunities for adjunct teaching if you have high levels of experience as a communication practitioner. Some 4-year and graduate schools offer online or in-person courses that communication experts often teach. The universities are looking for practitioners who can teach cutting edge concepts and tactics in areas like digital communication.
Bottom line is if you’re considering entering the field of education, know that your students will look up to you. Your time and expertise matter. Play on your strengths, confront your weaknesses, and inspire those around you. Remember, no teacher is perfect, and as long as you don’t pull ears, you’re doing a great job in my book.
Kara Jensen Maddox is currently working on her MA in Communication. She teaches remedial English and reading, English Composition and World Literature at Georgia Military College in Warner Robins, GA. On her days off, she enjoys writing screenplays, taking photographs and spending time with family.