College Music Teaching-The Scoop

by David Cutler (7.13.09)

On a regular basis, students declare to me that they are considering a career in college music teaching.  With gentle questioning, it often becomes apparent they have little idea what this profession entails.  While I can personally attest to the merits of this wonderful field, it is essential to understand certain realities. 

Becoming a professor requires more than teaching undergraduate theory classes or bassoon lessons!  Before placing all of your eggs in this basket, read through some actual job descriptions.  Follow the job market for several years, observing how many postings are available in your area and the preferences they express.  Members of the College Music Society can access job vacancy requirements, along with other helpful information about the profession.

College jobs are competitive to attain.  In areas such as piano and composition, it is not unusual to have 100-200+ applications for a desirable position, and that number may inch higher in coming years.  Depending on the subject, most institutions are interested in candidates with a terminal degree in hand (usually a doctorate); only a few top music schools dismiss the importance of educational background, favoring instead artists of international repute.  With so many candidates, search committees often gravitate towards musicians with a consistent list of successes and something unique to offer; savvy music entrepreneurs may fare better than those who have gone through only the normal channels. 

Many professorships are "tenure track."  After being hired, this process generally takes 6-7 years, with one or more job performance reviews along the way.  Once tenure has been achieved, professors are guaranteed employment (they can only be fired by doing something really stupid).  However, if a tenure review comes back negatively, the teacher loses his/her position, essentially getting laid off.  Some schools are infamous for never granting tenure, while others boast a high success rate.  

Tenure track employees typically balance three requirements:

  • Teaching (app. 40%). A full-time load is typically 12 hours per week for classes or 18 hours for private instruction. This may not seem like a lot, but it quickly adds up when combined with curriculum development, grading, office hours, and other responsibilities.
  • Scholarship (app. 40%). Publications, performances, recordings, awards, and other field-specific activities. The saying "publish or perish" references scholarship.
  • Service (app. 20%). Recruitment, acting on committees, and serving the community.

Schools in mid to large cities often hire orchestra members or other local professionals on an adjunct basis to make up a majority of their performance faculty.  Full-time performance positions are more common in college towns or relatively isolated communities.  These faculty members are often required to teach classes such as theory, musicianship, history, or ensembles, in which case those with a variety of skills are the most desirable candidates.

Community colleges also hire high quality musicians, but without the strict scholarship requirements.  Such positions may be ideal for those interested primarily in teaching, as opposed to "research."  Other options include part- or full-time adjunct instructorships at 4-year colleges.  While the pay and job security is usually less, these positions provide teaching experience and a dependable income.

Some people decide to teach college because they cannot imagine another music career for themselves.  It can be argued that someone incapable of survival as a musician outside of academia should think twice before entering a field where they are responsible for training future professionals.  If deciding upon this route, hopefully it is because you are passionate about teaching and have a valuable perspective to offer. 

 

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