Okay, cards on table. Back when I was still keeping up with Chronicle of Higher Education posts, earlier in Obama’s term when he was trying to reform the education system, I posted a number of links to twitter/fb/buzz about community colleges. I am aware of the important role that community colleges play in the nation’s educational system: it gives access to education to people can’t afford to attend larger universities; people looking to transfer to 4-year institutions; people who can only attend part-time; people who are looking to improve their skill set and make themselves more marketable or re-enter the workforce. 4-year institutions fill the niche for many teens/young adults between high school and the job market, but community colleges cover everyone else.
I get that they play an important role, and therefore there is no shame in teaching at one, but there’s still a stigma about it. Watching both seasons of Community repeatedly didn’t help. I think, at the end of the day, the reason I’m afraid of teaching at a community college is not because of them, but because they lack the prestige of the big universities, as if that somehow makes them worse. (That, and the pay is lower.) But that prestige comes from research, and I don’t want to work in a publish-or-perish environment. And, frankly, while the big universities come with some very talented students, they also come with some privileged students who think they deserve a good grade because they put in N hours despite the lack of result. I think I could do good at a community college. The students want to move onto something better, be it a better school or a new job, and while I will never be a Robin Williams in Dead Poet Society charismatic/life-changing teacher, I care about my students as individuals and want to help them succeed in that.
So my dream job would be a tenure-track job with no/low research requirement at a 4-year institution. However, a lecturer-type position at a university or a tenure-track job at a community college wouldn’t be much worse. But if I settle for one of the latter, I’ll probably never reach the former. So the thing I have to ask myself is whether I should keep chasing the former, which may require some years in industry, building experience while publishing, or just go for the latter.