Let’s say you’ve decided to teach. Then let’s say that you’ve decided that teaching online college courses is a good fit for you—you can experience the joys of teaching, gain some new skills, and all while working from home. But what if you have no experience as a teacher, or else only have a little? Can you still become an online adjunct instructor?
You can write a cover letter for a teaching job with no experience, so long as you can shape the experience you do have into expressing your best qualifications. The important thing is to determine what that experience is and utilize it. You probably have a lot of experience, and it only needs to be shaped into a well-written cover letter.
There are two things you can do to get that experience into your letter. One is to identify the skills you already have that pertain to the teaching job you are applying to. The second is to start making experience now—and there are plenty of ways to do that.
What Counts as “Teaching Experience”?
Let’s look at some experiences that work for teaching experience that may not be apparent—or, they may seem obvious but you might think that they’re “not enough.” Let’s start with actual classroom experience.
First, student teaching. This is the teaching that happens when you are working toward licensure for public school teaching. Whether you want to be an elementary, middle, or high school teacher, licensure programs require you do undertake a practicum in student teaching, and that can last anywhere from a few weeks to an entire semester. If you taught two or three classes in high school English for an entire semester, let’s face it, that’s a lot of experience.
Second, being a teacher assistant. Otherwise known as a TA, this is standard classroom experience for undergraduate or graduate students in college. It’s notable, too, that this is really a kind of fellowship—and that, too, looks good on CVs. Oftentimes, they help an established professor, but they may also teach classes entirely themselves. What does a TA do? They help students. They often evaluate student work. They help plan lessons. And that instructor you TA-ed for would make an excellent reference for you.
An article on teaching assistants at by Kelly (2019) points out the very skills that a TA has that need to go in your cover letter: flexibility, dependability, ability to communicate, love of learning, and a love of students. That goes equally with student teachers!
In fact, even teacher’s aides fit this description. Teacher’s aides can work in public schools from kindergarten through senior year. So does a substitute teacher. Again, it’s the classroom experience that matters.
So far we’ve looked at public school and college classroom experience. But this is by no means the only “classroom” you might find yourself in. There are also community education programs, often hosted by colleges (but open to the general public) and municipalities (through publicly-funded community centers). Such classes are also offered through nonprofit organizations. If you’ve taught for any of these, you have experience.
But what if you have absolutely no classroom experience? Let’s look closer.
Because the population you’ll find in college classes today—and especially in online courses—ranges from traditional college students to adults anywhere from young people to retirees, any volunteer experience with anyone in that range demonstrates that you can work with people—and that you’re looking out for their best interest.
Consider a program like the AmeriCorps. Being a wide umbrella for programs across the country, there are innumerable opportunities to work in schools, with students, or just teaching in general. One program in California, the AmeriCorps Borderlands, enlists members to tutor in English language development and academics to children from kindergarten through 12th grade at nineteen sites in Imperial County.
The AmeriCorps Life Coach Project in Arkansas provides assistance to adults working toward their GED. The Learning Undefeated program in Maryland enlists AmeriCorps members to serve as mentors to underserved youth and to “hone teaching skills” to middle and high school students, particularly in STEM. The list goes on.
Also, if you have volunteered your time teaching within a faith-based congregation – Sunday School for instance – you might consider that as a form of teaching experience you can discuss in your cover letter. And, again, individuals who you’ve taught or those you’ve taught under could make excellent references that speak to your teaching ability.
Volunteer experience, too, shows an incredible amount of conviction—after all, you care about something enough to volunteer your time and resources without asking for pay.
Credentials, Certifications, and Special Training
At the very least, the credential that matters the most is your degree. Having a degree is a requirement for teaching part-time at a college, though which degree may vary. A rule of thumb is that you will need to have a master’s degree. In some cases, that master’s degree must be precisely in the field that the college class addresses, but in some cases (and the college job boards will state this explicitly) it can be a master’s degree in a relevant discipline but with a certain number of graduate credits (18 is a good number) in the area that needs to be taught.
Some colleges, however, will ask for a bachelor’s degree, depending on the subject they need taught. In other instances, they’ll ask for a doctorate degree—especially if they are hiring to teach a graduate class.
A college degree is not the only credential. If you have the requisite degree but lack classroom experience, other credentials may suffice. If you are applying for a job teaching online classes, consider the value of specialized and documented training in the most popular learning management systems (LMSs), like Google Classroom, Blackboard, Canvas, or Moodle. Some of these trainings might be free (Moodle’s is – through their LearnMoodle platform, others may come with a cost). You can also seek specialized certificate training in online education best practices. We at AdjunctWorld offer a certificate course called Fundamentals of Online Teaching (OT101) – a credential that could be highlighted on your CV and in your cover letter.
There are programs across the country that offer discipline-specific certifications that are reputable and valuable. Take the Oregon Writing Project, for example. As part of the network of the National Writing Project, they offer teachers an Invitational Summer Institute which, upon completion, further makes one eligible to achieve the OWP Certificate in the Teaching of Writing. Taking the course, one teaches classes, develops curriculum, and studies research on contemporary writing practices—all of which would be available to teach as an adjunct in composition!
The bottom line here is that any specialized teaching that teaches teaching makes you a better teacher! If you have some of this kind of coursework in hand, then include it in your cover letter. If not, you can track down resources like the National Writing Project or any organization that trains teachers in your field and start learning now. It will pay dividends for a long time.
Tutoring and Mentoring
Tutoring to any degree is excellent experience in working with students and implementing instruction. Many volunteer as tutors—and AmeriCorps has had substantial impact in this area—and perhaps just as many have done so as a job working for any number of tutoring agencies.
Mentoring, too, where there is ample amounts of volunteer opportunities, is equally important. In either case, it is the “soft skills” that are relevant here: organization, compassion, communication, and so on. There are also “hard” skills at play—or harder, at any rate—like facilitation, lesson planning, evaluation, and curriculum development.
As with all other opportunities, consider taking on tutoring and/or mentoring before you start applying for college teaching positions. Think of it as laying the groundwork for a career. Think of it as “relevant experience.”
More Points for the Cover Letter
Once you’ve got a clear sense of your prior experience and how it translates to teaching—and both “soft skills” and “hard skills” are the cards you have to play—now you can write your cover letter. There are a few things to keep in mind.
Avoid generic language; match your skills to what the college specifies in their job positing. Whether you’ve volunteered or tutored, whether you are certified to use an LMS or certified to teach writing, you must detail as exactly as you can how your experience will lend itself to the college classroom. Be specific. Use numbers: How many students have you mentored? How many years did you volunteer?
Focus on your strengths. If building an enduring relationship at-risk youth comes easy for you, then emphasize the fact—after all, you will find college classes, too, have their share of at-risk youth. Show your commitment to your principles.
Whatever unique qualities you have—and it may be as simple as mastery of the Adobe Creative Suite or a knack for making fun activities—get them down on paper, as well. Indicate how you think they will lead to student success and upholding the values of the college.
When you finally get to writing, do so with aplomb! That is, show your enthusiasm for teaching and your conviction for helping people succeed. The very tone of your cover letter will send a message to HR personnel, department heads, and administrators. This is an opportunity you want. Make it clear!
You CAN write a cover letter with little or no teaching experience. Find the relevant job experience, demonstrate what you’ve learned, lay down your credentials, and show your excitement.
Kelly, M. (2019). What is a Teaching Assistant? https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-teaching-assistant-8303