When you are applying for an online teaching job with a college, what you will need to submit may vary somewhat, but there are some standard things to include. You can assume that all colleges will ask for a curriculum vitae, your “CV,” or maybe in some cases a simpler resume. Some will ask for your college transcripts or letters of recommendation. Some, though not all, will ask for a cover letter. Even if they don’t specifically ask for a cover letter, it is important to craft one—I think you’ll find you’ll be using it often enough!
Writing a cover letter for an online adjunct teaching job will follow the same principles as any cover letter, but you will need to address what matters for online adjunct positions: your teaching experience, your understanding and use of technology, your experience with students in online environments, and the soft skills that you’ve picked up along the way. This is also a good forum to demonstrate your enthusiasm for the role—if not your outright excitement!
Even if you’ve written a cover letter for a standard teaching role—that is, a teaching position in a physical classroom setting—you’ll need to fine tune it to convince the HR personnel that you are a good fit for teaching online, which is far different.
Cover Letters: The Basics
You probably know by now some of the most basic elements of a cover letter—naturally, you want to include all of your contact information, though nowadays that can include a LinkedIn profile. Like any cover letter, do your best to personalize the letter to the person doing the hiring. With online adjunct applications, that may be someone in the college’s HR department or, as is often the case, the head of the department you are applying for. It maybe even another professor who has taken on the responsibility.
Let me offer a brief refresher course on the cover letter.
After the salutation, introduce your cover letter by showing off skills, experience, and achievements. “As a teacher with six years of experience…” is a good way to start, for example. You can also indicate your teaching history: “I began my career as a high school teacher in Wisconsin, and then I…”
More particularly, use the description in the posting—the job duties and responsibilities, as well as the required qualifications—as a template for the body of your cover letter. For example, Richland Community College in Illinois is hiring for an online astronomy adjunct instructor, though they do not have a lot of detail in their posting. The posting does say that they require a master’s degree in astronomy or a master’s in a related field with at least 18 graduate hours of astronomy or physics. You could address the point like this: “After I earned my master’s in Astronomy from X College, I went on to…” and so on.
Staying in Illinois, let’s look at a more detailed posting, that of a job teaching engineering online at Joliet Junior College. Under the section “essential job duties and key responsibilities” is a list of points to address: “Comply with departmental curriculum, grading standards, attendance policies, textbook choices, and assessments.” Also, “effectively communicate with appropriate staff and chair.” The idea here is to address these points to make clear that you follow procedures, communicate with colleagues, and maintain a structure for your class. How you do it is what gets discussed in your letter, but generally—touch on the points enough to stir interest.
As always, close your cover letter in a professional fashion, and don’t be shy about expressing your enthusiasm.
What to Include in Your Cover Letter for “Online Teaching”
There are several key points to include in the body of your cover letter that are specific to teaching in an online environment. Let’s look at a description for a job with Morton College, teaching business, marketing, and supply chain management in an online environment.
First, they post some preferred qualifications: “Business expertise in areas such as social media and business, mobile business applications, e-commerce, computer/technology and business, logistics/supply chain, international business, or entrepreneurship/business management.” Well, that’s a lot. But if you can match these qualifications, the letter is just the place to prove you can do it—but again, only enough to stir interest so that the HR personnel and the business department faculty want to talk to you to get more details.
Remember, with many online adjunct positions, the bulk of your class may well be adults either changing careers or looking to get certifications and promotions in their current careers—and your class is their ticket. Your real-world experience—no matter what you teach, really—is paramount!
Now, the “specific job duties” are of particular interest here, and I say that because what this college explicitly asks for can be used for ANY cover letter for ANY college. Here’s a few salient points that Morton College asks for:
- Ability to evaluate, design, and implement curriculum, testing, and/or teaching methodologies.
- Ability to work effectively with diverse populations.
- Ability to communicate effectively, both orally and in writing.
- Knowledge of teaching methods, curriculum, and education programs.
- Teaching and facilitation skills.
- Ability to teach and control the behavior of students.
- Knowledge of academic and/or vocational education curricula.
- Knowledge of and ability to apply relevant current education methodologies and techniques.
- Ability to gather data, compiles information, and prepares reports
That’s a lot to cover, but these duties are also what are most important, and they are duties that the department who may prospectively hire you wants to know you can accomplish. Answer to these points with your experience; the more you can give authentic details that demonstrate you have done these things—and can again, and again—the more you’ll sell yourself. Let’s look closer.
Showing the “ability to evaluate, design, and implement curriculum, testing, and/or teaching methodologies” shows that you can get the basic job done on your own. You can be responsible for designing the class, based on the college’s expectations and curriculum, and that you can do so with a methodology that you have tested by experience. Offer a few outtakes from your curriculum; summarize your methodology.
The “ability to work effectively with diverse populations” is incredibly important for online classes where, as we’ve seen, diversity is the norm. For one, ages can range widely, from typical college-age students to retirees. You’ll need to address populations varying in gender, race, and income level. How you design your class to meet all those needs will be of special interest to hiring committees. Give examples of the populations you’ve worked with.
Here are two that you can shape into demonstrating your effectiveness in online teaching: “Knowledge of teaching methods, curriculum, and education programs” and “Teaching and facilitation skills.” In an online environment, the faculty wants to know if they can trust you to facilitate an effective class. Again, be detailed, just enough to make them want to meet you in person. How do you facilitate an online discussion, and how do you know it works with students? Put it in your letter.
Specific Points to Include
When you’re writing about your experience with technology, be specific. If you’ve used a learning management system, an LMS, which one did you use? Blackboard? Canvas or Moodle? Let them know regardless that you have—and it doesn’t matter necessarily if you’ve used it for a college, a business, or with a class you designed and led yourself. If you haven’t, let them know that you’ve trained yourself with using one of more systems.
Show how you’ve incorporated technology into your online environment. What programs have you used? PowerPoint? Google Classroom? If you’ve set up discussion boards, say so in your letter. If you’ve used video modules, tell which ones and explain how they were successfully integrated into the online environment. You may even have a certification like “Google Certified Educator”—list them. Whatever shows that you are knowledgeable in online teaching is invaluable!
You can probably go so far as to summarize how you’ve led discussions online, the importance of your email availability, and more. Try to put the reader in your classroom—just enough so they’ll want to talk to you more about your experience!
Include a Brief Teaching Statement
What kind of teacher are you? What kind of growth do you want to see in your students? What is it students take from your class? And, importantly, what kinds of “soft skills” do you exemplify in your online classes? Flexibility? Communication? Being supportive? Devote a paragraph to this.
Vanderbilt University (n.d.) offers a fine definition of a teaching statement: “a purposeful and reflective essay about the author’s teaching beliefs and practices. It is an individual narrative that includes not only one’s beliefs about the teaching and learning process, but also concrete examples of the ways in which he or she enacts these beliefs in the classroom” (para. 1).
Tell how you think learning occurs. Describe how your teaching facilitates student learning. Explain why you teach the way you do. Show what constitutes evidence of learning. Detail the goals you have for students and for yourself. Show how you create an inclusive learning environment. Describe your interests in different techniques and activities you use. In the case of a cover letter (unless a college asks for a full “teaching statement”), try to keep this brief but concrete.
When you devote space in your letter to “soft skills,” especially as they relate to your teaching skills, frame them in your actual accomplishments. When were you compassionate, for example? What program were you implementing, what class were you teaching, what club were you facilitating? A few brief sentences are enough to convey that, above all else, you care about student success, and you strive to create relationships with them.
Do this all within a space of about one page, single-spaced, no more. Be concise with your language and grammar. Remember, too, that the main thing the college wants to know is what kind of teacher you are in an online environment, working with diverse students and motivating them throughout the course. Use your best writing and have someone edit it, for sure. Your confidence will show.
The Basic Template
Here’s a prescription for how to introduce yourself:
- Detail your experience, but don’t just parrot your resume.
- Point out your achievements, using concrete examples of your successes.
- Detail certifications or special trainings and remember that some colleges offer training for teaching online—if you’ve done that, it counts.
- All work outside the classroom is relevant, too, especially if you’re teaching in programs like nursing, business, or social work, to name a few.
You can see that this is a basic prescription for a CV, and all you need do is tune it specifically to your skills in teaching and, especially, teaching online. With your tailored CV in hand, emphasizing your experience as a teacher and online afficionado, you will undoubtedly find yourself at “the top of the pile,” so to speak.
Circulate this CV widely and cast your net as far as you can.
OnRamp: How We Can Help
In our 4-week course titled OnRamp: a Practical Guide to Landing an Online Teaching Job, we devote an entire week to workshopping both your CV and your Cover Letter and at the end of the course you will have a fully and professionally edited set of application materials ready-to-go so that you can confidently apply to on line teaching positions. Please see our OnRamp Course Description and FAQ page for more information on OnRamp course goals, pricing, and start dates.
Center for Teaching, Vanderbilt University (n.d.) Teaching Statements. https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/teaching-statements/