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College Instructor in Technology

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Dr. Urban Thobe is the dean of the Department of Technology at Oakton College in Des Plaines, Illinois.

What education and technical background is most helpful to aspiring candidates in this field?

The basic state guideline in Illinois is that instructors must have at least two thousand hours of experience in the field that they are teaching. Those guidelines comes as a shock to some people, but remember that there are no college degrees in many of the occupational fields, like welding, for example. At Oakton we expect division chairs to have a minimum of a bachelor's degree, and many of our chairs have master's degrees in engineering. We expect all of our full-time staff to have a bachelor's degree in some field, even though the field may not be a degree program in their area of teaching. When we hire part-time staff, we look for people who have completed some college courses; they need the experience of being a student before they can be a teacher.

What kind of experience should an aspiring candidate have?

The ideal candidate has a combination of work experience in his or her subject area and some kind of formal teaching experience. You can never tell who is going to be a good teacher by looking at a resume, but you can look for communication skills and evidence of the ability to deal with people effectively. I would say that the ideal candidate has a thorough knowledge of his or her subject matter and has extensive work experience that is appropriate to the subject to be taught. Applicants who have experience as adjunct teachers at a college have a significant advantage.

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in teaching at the college level?

This is very challenging work, but it is a very interesting field. We are not bound by all the bureaucracy that you find in high school, and we don't have the publishing and research commitments that you find in other departments at the college or university level. Our program is industry driven. We exist to train people for jobs in industry. In order to be successful, applicants must have technical skills that are in demand, and they must update and expand on those skills. Students know the job market better than anyone else, and we respond to student enrollment.

People who enter this field-especially division chairs-must be willing to look at their divisions as small businesses. They need to network with trade and industry associations to stay current with their field, and they need to work with schools and community associations to recruit students. All of the divisions work with advisory committees to keep their programs focused on industry. Unless the divisions develop courses that offer what students need, their programs will die.

Teaching opportunities in technology at the college level usually fall into three categories: adjunct faculty, full-time faculty, and division chairs.

Adjunct faculty is instructors who teach one or two courses in their specialty areas and are typically paid by the class. Adjunct faculty in technology must have a minimum of two thousand hours of experience in the field that they teach, and they need some kind of training or teaching experience, whether it is as a volunteer tutor or instructor of apprentices. At the very least, adjunct faculty should have earned some college credit so they will have an understanding of the needs and expectations of their students.

Adjunct faculty need to break the course content into activities and assignments that will allow students to learn the subject matter. They need to develop strong communication skills in order to present information, answer questions, and explain complex ideas. Adjunct faculty must develop appropriate tests and grading scales that measure student achievement in a fair and impartial manner.

In the classroom, adjunct faculty meet with students, explain assignments, answer questions, and present information. Adjunct faculty is responsible for creating and maintaining a safe and stimulating classroom environment. Adjunct faculty also administers tests and evaluates student progress.

Adjunct faculty is usually paid a set salary for each class that they teach. The hourly rate is usually quite attractive, but typically there are no fringe benefits and no job security for adjunct faculty. This is an excellent opportunity for people who enjoy not only teaching but careers in business and industry, and are not willing to give up these careers for full-time teaching.

Full-time faculty needs a minimum of a bachelor's degree to qualify for a position, as well as two thousand hours of experience in the area that they will teach. Typically, full-time faculty is expected to bring a wide variety of experience in several teachable areas to the college or university, so they can teach a normal complement of five classes each semester. The teaching obligations are identical to adjunct faculty in terms of preparation and student contact, but full-time faculty is often expected to make contributions to departmental or college-level committees. As full-time staff, they enjoy job security, a salary that is determined either by a salary schedule or a negotiated contract, and a benefits package.

Division chair-people share the same teaching responsibilities as adjunct faculty and full-time faculty, and they also have extensive additional responsibilities. Division chairs in technology are often described as academic entrepreneurs who must develop a keen insight into industry trends so they can develop and offer classes that students need. In order to stay current with new trends, division chairs read and research industry publications, develop advisory committees, and participate in industry organizations.

Division chairs recruit students for their programs and hire and evaluate faculty for their programs. Division chairs develop and administer a program budget and assist their staff with discipline and instructional problems.

People who are attracted to college-level teaching enjoy working with young people who are more focused and mature than high school students. College faculty enjoy focusing on teaching, as opposed to focusing on discipline and coaching obligations at the high school level, or on publication and research in other departments at the college and university level. College faculty enjoys an academic calendar that allows them a great deal of free time to spend with family or to use for continued education or projects.

Division chairs are paid on a salary schedule set by the college or negotiated by a professional organization. In general, salaries range from $41,000 to $55,000 a year.
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