Teaching at a Community College: A Fulfilling Career

A student recently emailed to say that she was concerned about her future and that she wasn’t sure about the career path she wanted to take. One of her concerns, she said, was making money, but she also wanted to be happy. Maybe, she suggested, I could assign an essay on the topic of careers and happiness. Once I started my response, I realized that I had a lot to say on the issue, at least in terms of my own personal experience, so I thought I’d share it here…

Thanks for sharing your idea for an essay topic. At the end of the semester, everyone will have a chance to choose a topic they want to research and write about, so you can definitely look into the issue of happiness when the time comes for that assignment! Since you’re concerned about your career path, you can do some research into careers and happiness, or possibly work and personal fulfillment. To get you started, here’s an article on careers and happiness that appeared in the UK’s Guardian newspaper last year: What’s Career Happiness? As you’ll see, the article includes a picture of a chimpanzee, so it’s probably full of valuable information.

From my own personal experience, I’ve never thought of money as the most important aspect of a career. I certainly wanted to be able to make a living, but I never wanted to be rich. When I decided to major in English many years ago, a lot of people would tell me that I’d never find a job, but I did find a job editing Accounting textbooks shortly after I graduated. It was a job with a decent career path, but I hated it, so I left it for a job as the editor of a local magazine. Again, it was a job with a decent future, but I didn’t think it was challenging enough, so I decided to go to graduate school for English — first for a Master’s degree and then for a Ph.D.

In graduate school, even the professors would say that there were no jobs for people studying English in graduate school, but I guess I got lucky because I started working at Montgomery County Community College almost immediately after graduating. Even then, some of my professors said I would be miserable teaching at a community college because (from their limited and biased perspective), they didn’t think the students were of the same caliber as students at private colleges, and the course load was much higher (teachers at four-year colleges usually teach three classes per semester while teachers at community colleges teach five).

It turns out, however, that those professors were wrong. I’ve been at MCCC for a little over ten years, and I find the job to be very fulfilling. For one thing, I get to use my mind every day, and I get to be creative. For another thing, I get to encourage students to look at the world in what I hope are new and interesting ways, and I feel like doing so makes the job meaningful. Perhaps the most important aspect of the job, however, is that I admire and respect my colleagues. Because I work with some of the most dedicated and intelligent people I’ve ever known, I recognize that working at MCCC is an honor and a privilege, and I wouldn’t want a job anywhere else.

I’ll end by saying that a few years after I started working at MCCC, I was offered a job at a four-year college where the teaching load would be lighter and the pay would be better. I was tempted by this offer, but when I took a moment to think about it, I realized that MCCC gave me everything that I wanted in a career, so there would be no real advantage to switching jobs. In short, this job makes me very happy for all of the reasons I outlined above. If I’d followed everyone else’s advice and listened to all of their concerns about money and the job market, I have no idea where I’d be today, but I can’t imagine I’d feel as fulfilled as I do as a teacher at Montgomery County Community College.

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