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College Teacher Job Description, Career as a College Teacher, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training Advanced degree

Salary Average—$51,800 per year

Employment Outlook Very good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Teachers at colleges and universities pass their knowledge and expertise on to the next generation of bankers, painters, chemists, and even teachers. They help their students to think critically as well as imaginatively; provide practical training; and shape their students' goals, careers, and lives. As experts in their subject fields, they also set standards for research—usually reflected in the articles and books they write—and expand the limits of scholarship and its importance in society.

Teachers work at two-year junior and community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, and professional schools. Some teach in evening and continuing-education programs. Most work in one department, such as history or music, and specialize in particular disciplines, such as U.S. history or vocal performance.

Most college professors work in one department and may specialize in one phase of their discipline. They may also conduct research and write articles and books. (© A. Huber/U. Starke/zefa/Corbis.)

They usually teach from two to four courses each semester, combining lecture and discussion. Even more of their time is spent reading student papers, correcting examinations, and advising students. Some teachers have administrative duties; for example, at a small college a physics teacher might also be the dean of students. Some college teachers work part time as consultants to educational organizations, government agencies, and corporations.

The profession has distinct ranks. Instructors are at the lowest level, with little job security and hardly any voice in what is taught and how their schools operate. Instructors almost always teach undergraduates. Assistant professors and associate professors are more experienced and may be active in their schools' administrative affairs and set the requirements for their own courses. They teach undergraduates and, at some schools, graduate students. Full professors may serve as department heads as well as teach.

Education and Training Requirements

College and university teachers must have master's degrees or doctorates. Many four-year colleges and universities expect their teachers to complete their doctorates if they wish to be promoted or, in some cases, keep their jobs.

Master's degrees generally require one to three years of study beyond bachelor's degrees, while doctorates require two to six years of study beyond master's degrees. Candidates for master's degrees are usually required to write papers and take written and oral examinations. Besides additional course work, doctoral students must take oral examinations and write book-length papers called dissertations, which are usually based on original research.

Many graduate students work as teaching assistants for at least one year. Some teach their own classes. Others lead small discussion groups or conduct laboratory classes that complement professors' lectures. Teaching assistantships provide graduate students with financial aid and college-teaching experience.

Getting the Job

Professors often help their students find jobs: because they know teachers at other colleges, they may learn about openings before they are publicly announced. Professional journals, such as The Chronicle of Higher Education, a weekly newspaper, list many positions. College placement offices, professional organizations, private employment agencies, newspaper classified ads, and job banks on the Internet may also provide employment leads.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

About 1.6 million full- or part-time college teachers are employed in the United States. Depending on funding and qualifications, many of them advance at regular intervals: instructors become assistant professors, associate professors, and then full professors after many years of experience. The requirements for promotion vary from school to school; some colleges look for excellence in teaching, while others also require teachers to write extensively for publication. Teachers usually need doctorates to become associate professors.

A certain number of experienced and well-qualified teachers are given tenure, which means they cannot be dismissed without exceptional cause. Professors can also advance by accepting positions at more prestigious colleges or by becoming department heads or administrators.

Employment of college and university faculty is expected to grow faster than the average for all jobs through 2014 as student enrollments increase. However, some colleges and universities are facing financial difficulties, so many of the new hires may have part-time positions. Job growth may vary by discipline as well, because funding has forced schools to cut back or eliminate some academic programs and departments and increase class sizes. Teaching prospects are best in computer science, engineering, health science, nursing, and business. Openings also occur when experienced teachers are promoted, retire, or leave the field.

Working Conditions

Most teachers spend from twelve to sixteen hours in class each week, with their schedules changing each semester. Office hours, faculty meetings, advising, and class preparation account for thirty to forty additional hours per week. Teachers enjoy a certain degree of freedom because they can arrange their own schedules around their class times. The academic year generally runs from September through May, so teachers may use the summer months for research or other jobs.

At some colleges teachers are under considerable pressure to publish articles and books, so research may take up much of their time. Teachers with established reputations may work as visiting professors at other colleges. Many college teachers belong to labor unions.

Earnings and Benefits

In the 2004–05 school year the average salary for all college teachers was $51,800 per year. However, salaries varied widely by rank: instructors, for instance, averaged $39,899 per year, while assistant professors made $54,571 per year and full professors earned $91,548 per year. Salaries also varied by institution and geographic area. Some teachers increased their incomes considerably by writing for publication, consulting, or other employment.

Where to Go for More Information

American Association of Community Colleges
1 Dupont Circle NW
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 728-0200

American Association of University Professors
1012 Fourteenth St. NW, Ste. 500
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 737-5900

American Council on Education
1 Dupont Circle NW
Washington, DC 20036-1193
(202) 939-9300

Benefits also vary. Most professors receive health insurance and pension plans. Some colleges offer tenured teachers sabbatical leave. Some colleges provide housing, travel allowances, and tuition waivers for dependents.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesEducation & Training