Guest post by
I recently attended the 2022 Teaching@Teaching Intensive Institutions conference, an annual event hosted by UMass Amherst at Westfield State University. This event offers PhD students and postdocs from R1 universities a window into working at an institution that focuses on teaching (community colleges, state regional colleges, and small liberal arts colleges). In the initial panel, Intro to Teaching Intensive Institutions, four faculty members from such institutions in New England focused on their personal experiences, especially the rewards and challenges of their jobs. They discussed what motivates them to work at these teaching intensive institutions, what the students at each of their institutions are like, how many courses they are teaching, and how many hours they spend teaching each week.
All four institutions represented have a diverse student body. According to Lisa Rapp from Springfield Technical Community College, for instance, 50-60% of the student population are students of color, 60% are women, and 40% of them are over the age of 25. Emily Todd shared that 30% of students at Eastern Connecticut State University are first-generation students and 20% are students of color. For many students, going to college is a life-transforming experience, and all the panelists talked about how teaching these highly-motivated students is very rewarding. One of the panelists was once approached by a student who sought a chance to work in her lab. That student was deemed by another professor as only a C student but she saw the passion and potential. The student later went to graduate school and is now a tenure-track professor.
The teaching load is usually 4:4, meaning one teaches four classes per semester. The load varies depending on the discipline and the institution, and sometimes they teach the same course with two classes. In the sciences, it can be something like two lectures and four labs. Usually the class size is capped at 25-40 students for lower division courses, and 16 for upper-level classes. Normally they spend 12-15 hours in teaching every week, plus prep time.
In general, the panelists are very passionate about their career. They see a transformative mission in it and, to quote from one of them, “[I] carry the stories of students with [me]” along the way.
I learned so much from this conference, and I encourage any graduate student or postdoc to attend the future conferences and explore the possibility of teaching at a teaching intensive institution. Go for TTII 2023!