By: Professor Mark C. Fields
“I’m retiring next month and I’ve decided that I want to start teaching a class at your community college.” As a retired police lieutenant and current administrator of the Administration of Justice program at El Camino College, I get calls similar to this every semester. It is typically a police officer looking to supplement their income or just stay busy after a long career. One of my duties is recruiting and hiring new faculty for my program. For every 100 “subject matter experts” in criminal justice, I can find maybe one or two outstanding instructors. I will share insight on the qualifications required to become a faculty member, the hiring process and provide tips to stand out from the crowd.
The California Community College Chancellor’s Office sets the minimum qualifications (often referred to as min-quals) for faculty.[i] Min-quals vary for other disciplines. However, Administration of Justice faculty are required to have any Associates Degree and six years of experience in the discipline; or any Bachelor’s Degree and two years’ experience. Your college degrees can be in any discipline (my degrees are in public administration and business management). However, some institutions are looking for specific coursework. For example, we typically hire instructors with a law degree to teach Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure courses. In addition, college administrators place a high value on educational credentials. Candidates with a master’s or professional degree are more likely to be invited to an interview.
A job posting for an instructional position at my college typically generates 20 to 50 applications. Meeting the min-quals means your application will be accepted for further review. However, only those with the desired qualifications are typically given a second look. Desired qualifications include teaching experience, advanced certifications or specific expertise, such as crime scene investigation or detective assignments.
I am often asked, “How do I get teaching experience prior to being hired by the college?” Many law enforcement officers have performed instructional duties through their careers including Field Training Officer, POST Perishable Skills trainer, academy instructor, community policing officer or patrol supervisor who provides training. The key is to highlight those transferable skills in your resume and during the interview process.
Advanced certifications can make your resume stand out in a crowded field. The California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (P.O.S.T.) has some of the best instructor training in the business. The P.O.S.T. Instructor Development Institute (IDI)[ii] is a multi-level training program designed for those who instruct both pre-service and in-service peace officers. IDI focuses on adult learning theory which utilizes facilitated instruction and learning activities. The capstone course is the year-long Master Instructor Certification Course which includes curriculum design of an entire course. A P.O.S.T. Master Instructor certification often moves your application to the top of the list. If you are seeking a position teaching at a P.O.S.T. certified police academy you will be required to attend IDI. Other advanced certifications include POST Institute of Criminal Investigation (ICI)[iii] or the Community College Faculty Preparation Certificate Programs offered at several California State Universities including CSU Sacramento[iv] and CSU Dominguez Hills.
As with any job search the three most important considerations are networking, networking, and, oh yea, don’t forget networking. The time to get connected to the college you want to eventually teach at is before you are ready to apply for a position. Career and technical education programs are required by law to maintain a Program Advisory Committee made up of industry professionals who provide input on the college’s programs. Administration of Justice Program Advisory Committees are typically made up of law enforcement professionals, private sector security professionals and corrections personnel. This provides an excellent opportunity for you to get to know how the college operates and, more importantly, for the college to get to know you. A recent hire at our college had been a member of our Program Advisory Committee. Other opportunities include volunteering as a guest speaker, assisting with practical examinations and participating in student run clubs. Our campus’s Administration of Justice Club is entering its second year of existence and has grown to one of the largest student clubs on campus. Several local law enforcement and private sector personnel have given presentations to the club or sponsored field trips of their facilities.
So you passed muster and have been invited to an interview. What’s next? I always suggest preparing for the interview by doing your research on the institution. Data on many aspects of the instruction program are public record and posted on many of the colleges’ websites. Student success rates, student learning outcome assessments, accreditation information and course outlines of record can be easily found. Call or visit the college and speak with current faculty, students, administrators and support staff. Prior to interviewing at one college, I made it a point to buy the receptionist a cup of coffee and pick her brain on what she knew about the college. The information provided during that conversation proved invaluable during the interview. I was later told that I was the only candidate who had done that level of research.
During the interview you should expect a series of patterned questions designed to elicit responses that demonstrate your knowledge, skills and abilities related to the position. I need to emphasize that point. Just because you were a great cop, doesn’t necessarily mean you will be a great college instructor. I always advise applicants to become familiar with the language of the profession. Ed-talk is similar to cop-talk in that you need to understand the terms in order to provide appropriate answers to the questions. You should know what the terms student learning outcomes, course assessments, pedagogy/andragogy, effective contact and academic rigor mean. Diversity is also an issue that is discussed at every interview. Hint: diversity is not just the color of your skin or your country of origin.
During the interview you will normally be asked to do a short teaching demonstration of 10-15 minutes. The candidate is normally provided the topic in advance and is able to prepare for the teaching demonstration. Hint: lecture based instruction is (thankfully) a thing of the past. Nothing puts a panel to sleep faster than 10 minutes of PowerPoint slides crammed with information and a candidate who reads them word-for-word. This is where that IDI training will come in handy. Facilitated discussion and learning activities have a much greater impact on student learning than the old banker’s model of lecture. Time management is also crucial. If you end early, you look unprepared. If you run long, the committee will stop you before you finish.
It is fine to use PowerPoint, Prezi or some other form of visual media during the interview. However, they should only supplement the teaching demonstration. If you are using multi-media, it is a good idea to have a Plan B as well. I interviewed at one college and had a PowerPoint presentation. The college’s presentation projector broke that day and I was unable to show the presentation. Luckily, I had planned for such a disruption and had handouts prepared. The committee later informed me that I was the only candidate that had a Plan B. If you are not the selected candidate after the interview, seek feedback from the committee members on how to improve your prospects for hire. I did this at one college where I did not get hired (they chose an internal candidate) and they continue to reach out to me for teaching positions as they become available.
Reaching out to the college you want to teach at is only one way to find available teaching positions. Many college districts allow you to submit an application and resume to an application pool where you are notified when positions become available. The California Community College jobs registry (http://www.cccregistry.org) allows you to set up a job notification based on a search criteria that you define.
I have found teaching at a community college to be very rewarding. Most of my students aspire to be police officers, corrections officers, federal agents or private security personnel. In addition, I often have in-service peace officers completing courses to make themselves more competitive in promotional examinations. Former students often reach out to me after they have been hired by a law enforcement agency and thank me for my efforts as an instructor. If you are looking to supplement your income, stay busy or have a positive impact on a student’s life, consider an adjunct faculty position with a community college.
Author: Mark C. Fields is a 34 year law enforcement veteran and current full-time professor at El Camino College. He retired from the California Highway Patrol in 2011 at the rank of lieutenant. Professor Fields is a graduate of P.O.S.T. Command College and the FBI’s Police Executive Fellowship Program. He holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Cal-State Northridge, a B.A. in Business Administration from Woodbury University, and a Graduate Certificate in Community College Faculty Preparation from Cal-State Sacramento. He is currently enrolled in the Doctorate (Ed.D) in Educational Leadership program at Cal-State Long Beach where his research focuses on online education and course design.