Expand Your Teaching Skills and Learn about Institutional Diversity

Written by
Mai Hunt

Mar 27, 2024

Mar 27, 2024 • by Mai Hunt

If you’re a graduate student looking ahead or a recent graduate, you are likely thinking about landing your next job. Where will it be? What will you be teaching? What will your students be like? Planning for what comes next involves considering the learning curve you might face when moving to a new department and institution. And although some of you may have been trained at R1 universities and are prepared to teach at them, there is demand for instructors at access-oriented institutions such as community colleges. In fall 2022, 4.5 million students were enrolled in public two-year colleges (Current Term Enrollment Estimates), and the Community College Research Center estimates that, before COVID led to large enrollment declines, community colleges enrolled forty-one percent of undergraduates in 2020–21. Nearly half of all students who completed a degree at a four-year institution in 2015–16 had enrolled at a community college at some point in the preceding ten years (“Community College FAQs”). 

Understanding where a large portion of the country pursues postsecondary studies can inform your job search and career planning, and the MLA can support you throughout this process.

MLA Institutes: An Initiative to Train Teachers

In 2019, the MLA launched the Institutes on Reading and Writing Pedagogy at access-oriented Institutions (AOIs), an initiative designed to provide hands-on training for graduate students and early-career faculty members. This initiative defines AOIs as institutions of higher education that prioritize access over selectivity in admissions—primarily community colleges but also historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, and tribal colleges and universities across North America. Understanding AOIs as a teaching context is important because they serve a large portion of undergraduate students and differ significantly from the PhD-granting institutions that train future instructors in the fields of English, composition, writing, and rhetoric. According to Danielle Swanson, humanities chair at Georgia Highlands College, “Graduate programs often focus on teaching at research institutions, but a lot of English instructors and professors are needed at community colleges and other AOIs. The MLA institute I attended was a great way to learn more about what that kind of teaching was like.”

Goals of the Institutes

The MLA institutes bring together reading and writing as intertwined fields that enrich each other—and that shape liberal arts programs and humanities curricula. Participants in the institutes learn about major pedagogical trends in reading and writing and the best practices in introductory courses. The institutes also help graduate students and early-career faculty members learn about the students at AOIs and the missions of these institutions. Jessi Brewer, a doctoral student in English at Brandeis University, reported that "[t]his act of sharing work across disciplines and institutions provided great pedagogical models. I loved the innovation and creativity that emerged within our cohort; it brought new ideas to my syllabi, assignments, and pedagogy.” By working together in the institutes, participants from different institutions learn about the variety of colleges and universities, and the communities they serve, in the region.


Since 2019, the MLA has facilitated twelve regional institutes, involving more than two hundred participants who are either faculty members working at AOIs or graduate students interested in a career at AOIs. The evolving curriculum has been developed by faculty members who are active in the field of writing studies, stay current with the scholarship, and bring extensive experience teaching reading and writing in a variety of contexts. The curriculum itself is guided by writing- and reading-to-learn practices that model classroom exercises for institute participants and provide them with examples of engaged activities that foreground access and that they can incorporate into their own teaching. Esther Schwartz-McKinzie, literature coordinator in the department of English and reading at Montgomery College, reflected that “I loved the immersive aspect of the institute. The institute generated new ways to get students reading together, thinking together, and growing together that are now a permanent part of my wheelhouse.” This interactive work among facilitators and participants is a central tenet of the institutes and has supported participants at all stages of their careers, both as learners and educators.

Ninety-six percent of participants who completed a survey about their experience said they were likely or very likely to recommend the institutes to others. Are you interested in participating? Apply now to one of four MLA institutes taking place throughout summer 2024!

Works Cited

Current Term Enrollment Estimates Fall 2022 Report. National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, 2 Feb. 2023, https://public.tableau.com/app/profile/researchcenter/viz/CTEE_Fall2022_Report/CTEEFalldashboard.

“Community College FAQs.” Community College Research Center, 2024, https://ccrc.tc.columbia.edu/community-college-faqs.html.