• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.


Ask the Administrator: Teacher or Instructor?

Working at a school or a university?


July 28, 2014

A new (and fortunate) correspondent writes

I am writing to ask your advice on teaching at a school and teaching undergrads. I have job offers from schools and an offer to work as an instructor at a university. I need to make a choice [soon].

I want to work as an instructor but I also feel I should work as a school teacher to catch them young and make a positive influence on students from diverse backgrounds.

As far as salary goes, it is not very different. But school teachers have a good retirement plan. The instructor position is not tenure track but i am inclined towards teaching undergraduate Chemistry in a place where there are chances that I will have like minded colleagues. I am married and have 2 pre-school children. So I would want to spend not more than 50 hours a week at work.

I would sincerely appreciate your advice on the pros and cons of working at a school Vs as an instructor.

First, congratulations on having multiple good options.  Many people don’t.

Context matters, so it's hard to say with any certainty what you should do.  You know the intricacies of your context far better than I could.

That said, "instructor" positions off the tenure track (at colleges that have a tenure track) tend to be unstable, and often isolating.  Most of the time, you wouldn't know until the last minute whether you could return the following year.  (That's somewhat less true in unionized contexts, depending on the specific contract.)  What looks like a good choice now could vanish next year, or the year after that.  In the high school setting, you will probably have pretty good security from the start, and significantly more in a few years.

Since you mention retirement plans, I'm guessing that you're interested in some level of stability of employment.  Based on that, I'd recommend the high school route.  That route would also give you a better chance to "catch them while they're young." 

You'd be much more integrated into the life of the school at the high school level, in most cases.  Instructors at the college level tend to be treated largely as independent contractors, rather than as colleagues.  In most settings -- again, context matters, but I'm speaking to the typical case -- you'd basically be on your own.  At the high school level, you'd be a presumably permanent member of a standing faculty, so you'd have colleagues. 

High schools have issues of their own, of course.  Leadership quality can vary widely, and facilities are often less advanced than you'd find at a typical college.  You'd also have to work with more mandates, whether from the district or the state.  And, of course, dealing with 15- and 16-year olds is different from dealing with adults.  Whether that excites you or makes you roll your eyes is a question only you can answer.

Good luck!

Wise and worldly readers, what would you suggest? 

Have a question?  Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.


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