After the PhD: Teaching at a Community College with Dr. Brian Malone

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After the PhD: Exploring Career Paths in the Humanities

After the PhD: Teaching at a Community College with Dr. Brian Malone

At H-Grad, we have made a concerted effort this year to better utilize our network and its members to compile useful resources for our community. (Be sure to check out our ever-expanding list of weblinks, especially those pertaining to teaching and TA resources!

Kara (currently on the job market and in her last year of her PhD program) and Katie (experiencing her first year of post-grad life as an assistant professor) have spent a lot of time thinking about what happens after the PhD is conferred. We know that worrying about the future causes a lot of anxiety, and we also know that it helps us to hear success stories from those who have ended up in a position that they love (whether this be inside or outside of the traditional tenure-track job.)

In this blog series, we interview newly minted PhDs to learn about the process by which they found their niche. We wanted to begin such a series for several reasons:

  • First, we do not hear enough about what these folks do without it being oversaturated by an atmosphere of “success” in academia or an atmosphere of job market depression. We wanted these interviews to be candid and honest.
  • Second, we wanted to feature stories on new PhDs who have not only braved the job market, but who have diverse pedagogical experience because we believe they have a lot of know-how and advice to share.
  • Third, we wanted to showcase our appreciation for the deep and abiding commitment many of these folks have to their teaching, research, and service, whether in academia, or outside of it.

Find our first post in the series below! →  


Focus on: Teaching at a Community College with Brian Malone

The first post in our series “After the PhD” features Dr. Brian Malone, who graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz and currently teaches at De Anza College.


In this blog post interview, we focus on building a career in teaching at a community college.


Is a career at a community college right for you?

One of the things that Dr. Malone highlights is that tenure-track community college careers are a different genre from 4-year university jobs; when you search for jobs, you should set your goals realistically.

As multiple articles point out, we should not expect to transition easily from jobs at a community college into a position at a four-year university, or vice versa. Each type of institution has a different set of goals for their faculty, and distinct ideas about the ideal skill set each professor should bring to the table:

Many of these articles highlight the fact that there is a stigma attached to teaching at a community college in the world of academia, which Dr. Malone asks us to consider. He urges us to take a community college career and the institution itself seriously.

Community college jobs might also not be for you, and that’s alright too, as this author points out: (

An important criteria for community college jobs is a deep and long-lasting dedication to teaching, as Dr. Malone shows us, and teaching may not be your thing (see in particular the MLA’s “Preparing for a Career at a Community College” webpage, link above). However, if it is, you want to carefully consider the mission of the community college and the pedagogical tools with which you will eventually equip your students. Reflection and learning are permanent factors in teaching.


Experiencing community college from the tenure-track position

We thank Dr. Malone for his refreshingly insightful and uplifting take on where PhD careers can go. As you read the interview, we hope that it can lend some insight as to whether or not teaching at this type of institution might be a good fit for you!

KH & KT: What is your job title and where do you work (could you specify your position, such as adjunct or tenure-track, etc.)?

DR. M: I am a full-time Instructor in English at De Anza College, a community college in Cupertino, California. My position is tenure-track and I’m in my second year of a four-year tenure process.

KH & KT: What are your main responsibilities (such as, how many classes do you teach per academic year, how big are your classes, do you serve on other committees or do service work for your institution)?

DR. M: My regular load is 3-3-2 (De Anza is on the quarter system). These are mostly composition classes, which are capped at 25-30 students depending on the level. I also occasionally teach literature courses (which are often slightly larger). In addition to my teaching, I am expected to participate in committee/service work. I am not required to publish, but it is expected that I will engage consistently in professional growth activities (conferences, workshops, trainings, and additional classes).

KH & KT: Very teaching focused, which is not quite what we’re used to at an R1 university with the “publish or die” mentality. How did you end up finding this job?

DR. M: After I finished my degree at UC Santa Cruz, I immediately transitioned to teaching writing there as an adjunct. I loved teaching at UCSC and I assumed that I would probably build a career there as a lecturer. But, at first, it was hard to get enough classes there to support myself. So, like most other adjuncts, I had to find an additional school. A good friend from graduate school had recently started on the tenure track at De Anza and she suggested that I pick up some courses there as an adjunct. I hadn’t really considered community college as a career option, but my friend thought I would be a really good fit at De Anza. She was right. After I was at De Anza a year, my department conducted a tenure-track search and I was extraordinarily lucky to be hired.

KH & KT: That’s amazing! We’re glad that things ended up working out for you. We’ve always known you to be an excellent teacher who connects with people. We’re interested in what being a tenure-track community college instructor is like. What are the benefits of having your position? What are some of the so-called “highs and lows” of the job?

DR. M: The best thing about my job is working with my students! They have a remarkable range of life experiences and backgrounds and I am constantly learning from them. They are sharp, determined, and (almost always!) excited to be here.

In addition to the amazing students, I appreciate how much pedagogical freedom I have at De Anza. I can approach my composition classes from so many directions and this allows me both to follow my own developing interests and to design courses that speak to my students’ lives. For example, in just the past three years, I’ve centered composition courses around immigration, gentrification, urban geography, Harry Potter, US treatment of indigenous people, fake news, and the Hamilton musical. And because a key component of De Anza’s mission statement is to teach civic engagement in the service of social justice, my political commitments can inform my pedagogy, as I help students to make connections between the classroom and our broader community.

I wouldn’t call it a “low” of my job, but I do find it challenging—both pedagogically and emotionally—to provide enough support to students who have significant material barriers to their success. Silicon Valley is an incredibly rich area, but it is also brutally unequal—socially, economically, racially. Many of our students are pursuing degrees despite food insecurity, homelessness, histories of incarceration, PTSD. We have many undocumented students on campus, and this is obviously a very difficult time for them. De Anza provides a great deal of support and resources for all of our students, but challenges remain for many of them. And that requires faculty to show great creativity, patience, and care, both in and out of the classroom.

KH & KT: We love that you have such pedagogical freedom and the ability to explore important topics with your students. Community colleges also provide really great foundations for writing and critical thinking, especially in smaller, student-centered classrooms than ones we’ve experienced at larger universities with lecture halls. You’ve already anticipated our next question: What are the students like at your institution?

DR. M: Our student body is incredibly diverse. Our college district includes the wealthy cities of Cupertino and Sunnyvale, but the majority of our students commute (sometimes for more than an hour) from outside the district and often from much poorer areas. We draw heavily from the east side of San Jose and from other cities in the South and East Bay. We also enroll significant numbers of international students who are drawn to De Anza because of our strong reputation for transfer. This means that our classrooms are some of the most diverse public spaces in Silicon Valley and I encourage our students to celebrate this.

Our students tend to be focused, motivated, and eager. The vast majority of our students plan to transfer to a four-year school. Many of our students want to serve their communities and they are drawn to De Anza because of our social justice mission. All of our students bring skills, talents, and useful bodies of knowledge to the classroom, even if they don’t realize it. Part of my job is to help our amazing students recognize we all have things to teach each other.

KH & KT: Wouldn’t have ever realized De Anza’s draw for international students! To continue our discussion about pedagogy and students, what are some pedagogical strategies that you regularly employ and why do you find them effective? (Brian, we know that you have students create comic strips, sometimes for really philosophical questions. How do you facilitate these comic strips?)

DR. M: I frequently ask my composition students to create maps. I assign them to map some aspect of a neighborhood that they know well. I like this assignment because it asks them to look analytically at the world around them and then to synthesize and communicate clearly the information that they collect.



I often assign students to create comic strips in groups. I bring newsprint and art supplies and we spend a chunk of the class period working on them. This is a really versatile assignment. Most recently I used it when we read a long article about causes of and solutions to gentrification in the Bay Area. Each group was assigned a different section of the article and they were asked to create a colorful comic strip together that would illustrate the points in that section for someone who hadn’t read it. When we were done, we had a graphic summary of the entire article. I’ve also used this assignment to compare and contrast different philosophical explanations of creativity/inspiration or to explain different strategies for social change. I like this type of assignment because it teaches summary skills, but also asks students to think about how to convey information visually. (Occasionally, I extend this project over two classes and we read excerpts from Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics to inform the visual grammar).



I also like to find ways to use walking in my courses. I think it’s important for students to carefully observe the campus and their own communities and to make inferences from those observations. I occasionally assign walking journals, in which I ask students to take a walk and then sum up what they see. I also occasionally lead walks around campus or in other neighborhoods in the area and ask students to connect the observations that they are making to the readings for the class. One time, my students and I practiced reading the signs of gentrification in San Jose’s Japantown. Another time, we considered how the design of the De Anza campus reflects (or, in some cases, does not reflect) the values of the college’s mission statement.

In all three types of assignments, I am interested in expanding the types of “reading” that my students can do, while making connections between the classroom and the community outside of class.

KH & KT: We wish we could take your classes. I (Kara) certainly could have used practice reading for gentrification, or even college campuses! Your walking and reading makes it really clear that visual literacy is something we take for granted and overlook, but something that we can really learn and reflect on. In talking about classes, you mentioned that you taught a class on Hamilton, the Broadway musical. Was this for a writing/composition class? Can you tell us a little bit more about what you did in this class and what students ended up taking away?

DR. M: My Hamilton course is a transfer-level composition course. I taught it two quarters last year and I’m teaching it again this quarter (probably for the last time). The primary text for the course is the Hamilton soundtrack, which we read almost line-by-line. We use the musical to explore important questions about genre and representation, but the overarching question that we keep returning to has to do with the racial politics of the musical. I love the musical, but I also tend to agree with many critics who find its politics problematic. When students leave this course, they are able to describe and analyze genre. They are able to argue for the importance of diverse representations in popular culture. But—and this is important to me—they are also able to recognize and acknowledge the complex interactions between aesthetic pleasure and politics. When this course works as I want it to, students leave with a deep love for Hamilton that can and does coexist with a sharp critique of its racial politics.

KH & KT: It’s too bad this is the last quarter you’ll be teaching the class, but perhaps that’s due to the timeliness and vogue of musicals--although we’re sure you’d teach an excellent course on musicals and genres if the chance came up. We’ve been thinking about pedagogy and how we begin to learn how to teach. What are some of your favorite teaching resources? Do you have any blogs or websites that you regularly follow? Any books on pedagogy that you’ve turned to for inspiration in the past? (We’re compiling a list on our H-Net site.)

DR. M: To be completely honest, my favorite teaching resources are my colleagues! I get so many fantastic pedagogical ideas from informal conversations with my colleagues at De Anza. I also have a wonderful network of friends and colleagues at other institutions that I keep in touch with via Facebook. These are the sources that most influence my pedagogy.

That being said, I do want to mention two resources that I’ve found very useful in recent months. The first is a website and blog called Small Stones ( ), co-created by one of my colleagues, Emily Breunig. There is much of use there, but I have been drawn to their work with oral histories—especially the interviews with educators they have been conducting since the election. I have not done much with oral history in my classes yet, but I am pondering Emily’s work and thinking about how to adapt it in my own classroom.

I’ll also mention a book that I’ve found helpful recently. My pedagogical orientation is social/affective, and I don’t know as much about the cognitive dimensions of learning. To try to expand my understanding, I spent some time this summer with a book called The ABCs of Learning by Daniel L. Schwartz, Jessica M. Tsang, and Kristen P. Blair. I found it really useful—I particularly like the index of classroom activities that are suggested for different situations.

KH & KT: Thank you for these recommendations. Thinking about “small stones” and what they mean is especially provocative in considering education, racism, and knowledge. Turning this conversation towards graduate school pedagogy, if you could tell your younger self some advice, before grad school or while you wrote the dissertation, what would you say?

DR. M: When I applied to graduate school, I knew that an R1 university job would be a longshot. And yet, I still felt like that would be the only good outcome of graduate school—anything else would be a failure. I’m sad to say that it took me too long to get over that feeling. So, if I could, I would go back and try to convince younger me that, not only are there other post-PhD options, but that some of those options would be a better—and more fulfilling—career path for us.

KH & KT: We’re very much on the same page with you. Do you have any advice for grad students seeking your kind of position?

DR. M: My advice is probably most applicable to graduate students in PhD programs. If your graduate program is anything like mine was, you probably won’t receive much (if any) training that would prepare you for teaching at a community college. This means that you will have to prepare yourself for this type of job. You may want to take additional classes and professional development workshops. Find ways to pick up relevant experience working with students below transfer level. You should try to find a mentor at a community college who can help you to adapt your pedagogy. Develop a network of friends and colleagues at community colleges who you can ask for help. I wouldn’t say that my PhD was a disadvantage when I applied for this job, but I do think that it was essential that I was able to demonstrate that I had the skills, training, and desire to meet the specific needs of students at a community college. And you can do it too!


Thank you for sharing your experiences, Dr. Malone, from pedagogy to career advice. We certainly have learned a lot, and are sure that H-Grad readers will gain a much better understanding of community college careers and pedagogical tools from you.

You can learn more about Dr. Brian Malone here:



Are you an instructor at a community college? Are you considering a career at this type of institution? Share your wisdom!

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