You can't have too many degrees for an IT teaching career

If you're considering moving into the tech education field, you should be prepared for a competitive environment and some intensive educational requirements, advises career expert Molly Joss.

I am a former IT manager and now work as a senior computer system technology instructor at a small business school. For the past four years, I have been teaching various computer classes, including Office applications and several kinds of networking. I have my A+ certification and am working toward the N+ certification.

My career goal is to become a college professor. I have an M.S. in education. Should I continue getting my certifications or should I pursue a Master's degree in CIS or both?

Given the rocky tech-employment climate, this is a career topic that many IT managers are likely investigating as they search out a potential new career path.

When it comes to teaching in an accredited college institution—undergraduate level or higher—nothing counts as much as your college degrees. Your experience or ability to teach are secondary and, without the right degrees, are not enough to get you a job as a tenured college professor.

To teach on the college level, a master's degree in the field that you wish to teach is a minimum requirement these days, even for most community colleges and other two-year colleges. You would need a Ph.D. in computer science or other related IT discipline if you wish to pursue a tenure track at a major research university.

Requiring instructors to have a master's degree in the field in which they teach is a big change from what the rules dictated just a few years ago. It used to be that if you had a master's degree in education, you could teach any subject in which you had demonstrable experience or the subject that was your undergraduate major. Sometimes colleges would accept a master's degree in any field or discipline.

Today, colleges and universities are more stringent about who they accept for teaching positions because they have been inundated by people with advanced degrees who have lost their corporate jobs and who are looking to fill in some time by teaching. Many of these folks do not intend to make education a career—they are just looking for a paycheck until they can get back into the corporate tech world.

That said, colleges and universities are more flexible when it comes to finding someone to teach computer classes, particularly those that are not highly technical. Often, though, this is in the role of adjunct faculty, which basically means they hire you on a course-by-course basis when they need you.

Know exactly what you need
What you must do now before you invest any more time or money into certifications or degrees is to check out the specific requirements of the colleges and universities in your area. Visit each institution's Web site, or call the dean who is in charge of hiring professors and find out what educational and experience requirements the college has for the professors who teach computer science.

The best time to reach out to college administrators is during mid-semester. They are often too busy to handle such requests at the start or end of the semester.

Be prepared to hear about extensive teaching requirements. I read through the job postings for computer-related teaching positions on the college level on the Association for Computing Machinery site and found that for a one-year, non-tenure position in computer science at Oberlin College in Oberlin, OH, the candidate must have a doctorate degree. For another job that is similar in nature at Penn State Capital College in Harrisburg, PA, they prefer candidates with a Ph.D. in computer science, plus teaching experience and a few articles published in scholarly journals as well.

An alternative route
If your mind is reeling at the thought that you might have to have a Ph.D. to teach on the college level, there is an alternative. While you're making those phone calls, ask if the college offers computer classes through continuing education or noncredit programs. Many colleges have such programs, especially community colleges. You will find it much easier to get a job teaching these kinds of classes because the colleges want people with certifications and real-world experience to teach classes to adults and don't place such a heavy emphasis on advanced degrees.

Since these classes are not part of the college's accredited undergraduate programs, the colleges can decide on their own what qualifications the instructors must have. The qualifications can vary from class to class, as well. They might insist on having someone with a current CISCO certification to teach those classes, but your IT management background might be enough for you to teach an introduction to PC hardware class. This career option allows new instructors to get some experience teaching in a college environment. Eventually you'll need to get experience in teaching undergraduates, but that will have to wait until you have your Master's degree in CIS.

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