From High School Teacher to Community College Professor

There’s nothing like seeing the look of understanding suddenly appear on the faces of students you’re teaching. Those “light bulb moments” are the reason many choose to enter — and stay — in the teaching profession. And, sometimes, staying means transitioning from one teaching environment to another. This is the case for many high school teachers who are looking at becoming a community college professor as the next step in their career.

Teaching in High School vs. Teaching in a Community College: What’s the Difference?

Teaching is teaching, right? As a teacher, you know there’s nothing further from the truth. There’s a significant difference in teaching elementary school students versus middle school students. The same goes for teaching middle school students versus high school students. And, as you might expect, teaching students in a community college setting is — in many ways — different than teaching in high school. But what do these differences look like? Here are a few to consider:

  1. Playing the roles of teacher and friend vs. teacher and parent. Anyone who’s ever taught high school is familiar with the challenges of dealing with students who are navigating the tenuous journey of moving from childhood to adulthood. While it can be rewarding, it’s certainly not easy. You often move between the roles of parent and teacher multiple times throughout the day. But, as a community college professor, you’ll be working with adult learners — some of whom might even be older than you. While they might need some hand-holding along the way, they don’t require it in the same way younger students do. And, instead of playing a parental role, you can often be both a teacher and friend or mentor.
  1. Breaking away from a rigid schedule. In his article, “Why Don’t You Just Teach High School?”, Josh Boldt provided a peek into his world as a substitute high school teacher. He substituted to supplement his income as a college adjunct instructor. One of the differences he noted was the “structured workdays or the bureaucratic hoops that public school teachers must jump through.” As a high school teacher, you have specific times to do everything — from teaching to eating to taking a bathroom break. As a community college professor, schedules are typically much less rigid. For example, you might have an hour or more between classes that you’re teaching. And you might not teach every day of the week. This leaves more time to do the things you need to do for you and that you want to do for your students.
  1. Teaching students who want to be there. Football practice. Rehearsal for the spring musical. Service club activities. Hanging out with friends. These — and other extracurricular activities — are what many high school students are thinking about in the classroom. They have to go to class but they want to do things that are “fun.” This makes teaching them and engaging with them challenging, to say the least. However, most students in community colleges are there because they want to be. Whether they’re getting the training they need to change careers or saving money by taking required courses before transferring to a four-year school or simply enjoying the rewards of life-long learning, these students are there for a reason. What does that mean for you as a community college professor? According to, “People in the community generally are very motivated to be there and learn so as a teacher that makes your job a bit easier.”

What It Takes to Become a Community College Professor

In California, there are minimum qualifications that must be met in order to become a community college professor. These qualifications vary from discipline to discipline. So, be sure to find out which are required for the types of classes you’re interested in teaching. Here are two examples:

  • If you want to teach courses about the classics of literature, you either need to have a master’s degree in classics OR a bachelor’s degree in classics WITH a master’s (or equivalent) in history, English literature, comparative literature or classical archaeology.
  • If you want to teach courses about interior design, a master’s degree isn’t required. However, you must have EITHER a bachelor’s degree (or higher) in any discipline and two years of professional experience in the field of interior design OR any associate degree and six years of professional experience in the field.

You might already have many or most of the requirements needed for your area of study. For those you don’t, there are many opportunities at National University to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees online in a variety of disciplines, including education. These online programs are designed for those who are working full-time and who also have additional responsibilities — including families, military duties, service organizations, and other priorities.

A Profession Poised for Growth

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national job outlook for postsecondary teachers — which includes those who teach at community colleges — is projected to be 11% growth between 2018-2028. This is much faster than growth in other industries. Regarding mean annual salaries for postsecondary instructors, California is among the top-paying states. In May 2018, it was $84,160. Of course, salary levels will vary by school and by position.

In addition to the growth of the profession, becoming a community college professor is also an opportunity to grow as a teacher — expanding your skillset and providing opportunities to experience teaching in a new, dynamic and rewarding environment.

If you’re interested in becoming a community college professor but need an additional degree in order to meet the minimum qualifications, consider enrolling in one of the many online bachelor’s and master’s degrees at National University. You can learn more about National University, the on-campus and online degrees and programs we offer, Veteran opportunities, and student experiences by reading the blog articles.

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