How should I write my adjunct faculty cover letter?
June 29, 2009 6:21 PM   Subscribe

I'm applying for an adjunct teaching position at a community college, but I only have experience with teaching elementary school students.

I've also tutored high school students who are much closer in age to the students that I would be teaching at the CC, but the majority of my teaching experience comes from what I've done with the younger kids in schools and in art centers. I know that I have the necessary educational background to teach at the CC now, because the job posting says that candidates just need to have a master's degree in that language. It also says that teaching experience is preferred, not required, and while it doesn't specifically say that it has to be teaching experience in that language, the problem is that I've never taught the language before.

So now I'm trying to decide how to write my cover letter. I have plenty of great examples to use when explaining my teaching philosophy and approach, but these examples are all in the context of elementary school. Even though I've also tutored high school students, I don't really have as much to say about that experience because I was nowhere near as involved with determining the content and structure of the classroom as I was with my elementary school students. I've thought about what other factors could potentially be relevant in the CC setting, such as emphasizing group work in the study of the language, but other than that, I'm stuck.

I've read a few articles that discuss how to address the lack of teaching experience in a faculty cover letter. Most of them said that instead of writing about what you've already done, you would write about what you would do if you were in that teaching position. Fortunately, I can say what I've already done with my elementary school students. I've also thought about saying what I would do as a teacher of this language, based on my experience with studying it in college and grad school, but I'd just like to get some more input, especially from people who may have been in situations like this before.

Here's my question: What are some tactics that I can use in my cover letter to convince the search committee that my academic background and elementary school teaching experience make me qualified for this faculty position?

If you'd prefer to answer by email:

posted by anonymous to Work & Money (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I would recommend looking at the Chronicle of Higher Ed's career page. They even have an essay series on "The Two-Year Track," which focuses on careers at community colleges.

I'd also recommend that you spend a good amount of time on your particular CC's website. Pay attention to what their student body is like, the particular challenges they face, and focus on how you would serve that community in your cover letter. Diversity (age, socioeconomic, race, educational background, etc) and work-life-education balance issues are often key issues. Showing off experience on dealing with that kind of community will help you immensely.

And I know you didn't ask for this, but I really wouldn't suggest getting your hopes up. I have a lot of friends who are finishing their PhDs, in much higher demand fields and with loads of college-level teaching experience, who are having a hell of a time even getting interviews for adjunct jobs at CCs. The academic market right now is really, really awful, with searches being canceled far more often than they're being filled.
posted by amelioration at 6:35 PM on June 29, 2009

I AM an adjunct professor at a community college. I got the job with no teaching experience at all, simply meeting the job requirements for the position, which included a master's degree in my field (Computer Science) and doing well in the interview as well as the "sample lecture".

As someone who has hired others, I think a well written cover letter is key, but I would not go into great detail with teaching philosophies. A cover letter is a pitch and by necessity should be short. I would mention prior teaching experience, and perhaps a sentence about how your tutoring of high school students is a portable skill that would also aid you in a collegiate classroom environment.

Then in the interview you sell them on it.
posted by arniec at 6:43 PM on June 29, 2009

As someone who has hired others, I think a well written cover letter is key, but I would not go into great detail with teaching philosophies.

I don't doubt this at all for arniec's experience because there's a range of expectations out there, but typically for academic positions one would call it a "letter of interest" and while this genre is concise, it is not typically as short as a cover letter in other sectors. If you are interviewing for a CC position, you will want to highlight your understanding of their institution and the students it serves. You will want to highlight your own education, experience (and possibly research) as it fits with the job announcement (and it really should be a good fit these days). You will want to use language that codes your basic educational and pedagogical philosophy so that you can offer an explanation of how you teach without going too deeply into it. Still, a paragraph on this is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you are lacking the experiences that would signal to a hiring committee that you already know your stuff. Doing these things takes more than a page, typically 1 1/2 to 2 pages.
posted by mrmojoflying at 6:54 PM on June 29, 2009

Following on amelioration's first point, I think you would get a lot of good (though possibly grim) responses if you posted this question in the chronicle of higher ed's forums, either in the job-seeking experiences forum or maybe in the non-tenure track forum.
posted by advil at 6:57 PM on June 29, 2009

I'm an adjunct at a large University in a smaller graduate program. But I've also taught undergrads at a smaller, private university. I obtained my adjunct gig (which also allows me to help design courses) through being open to teaching assistant roles at the graduate level when they were struggling to find someone at the last minute, offering to help the Director of the program with research--part time--while I had another full-time job, and also offering to be a Graduate Research Advisor. I was able to showcase my skills with students as well as my proficiency with the material and those experiences, over time, allowed me to step into my current adjunct role. So, what I'm saying is, don't be discouraged. If teaching adults is really interesting to you, there are more ways than one to develop a relationship with a CC.

I think amelioration has it. Demonstrating an understanding of the specifics of their student population and how your experience best serves that population will set you apart in a cover letter.

Also, from the language of your question ("I only have experience with teaching elementary school students"), I get the impression that you are seeing your work with younger kids as counting against you somehow. I've taught K-8, I've taught undergrads, I've taught graduates, and I've taught in corporations. I use the same learning and instructional design philosophy with younger kids as I do with adults. A facilitative, student-centered style instead of an instructor-focused style, stemming from a constructivist/humanist/progressive set of philosophies. I wouldn't use those formal terms to describe my philosophy in a cover letter, though. I'd use the actions that define those philosophies, like the items from the Philosophy of Adult Education Inventory or PAEI (which you can view and take online.) Don't assume that adjunct work means lecture and instructor-centered learning. Both university-level programs that I taught for chose me for my assignments based upon my ability to deliver material in a challenging, creative way. My work with elementary students was a great asset to me in this regard. Good luck.
posted by jeanmari at 7:59 PM on June 29, 2009

I'm just here to support the notion that you should ask this over at the relevant Chronicle of Higher Ed forum. I normally suggest this with questions about academia on AskMe but I think this is particularly relevant here. It is also fair to warn you, like amelioration, that the academic job market is particularly harsh this season and that you may well be competing with Ph.Ds with plenty of college-level teaching, but that's just the nature of the beast. No one, not even Ivy Ph.Ds, has it easy this season, so this is upping the job market ante, so to speak. You shouldn't let that put you off applying, but you should be aware of this. Best of luck!
posted by ob at 10:06 AM on June 30, 2009

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