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ASL Careers:

Note: Some of the responses in the following correspondence were updated in 2018.
In a message dated 3/4/2007 7:05:33 P.M. Pacific Standard Time, a student writes:

     When you get a chance, could you please respond to the following questions for my career I-Search about college faculty members?  Brief replies are fine.

1.  What is your job description?

The American Sign Language program at California State University-Sacramento is a rapidly growing program, and we are seeking qualified faculty to fill a tenure-track position. Note the screening date is November; please ignore this and send in your applications if you are interested. We are hoping to receive a pool of applicants by April 25. If you are interested in the position, please send in your application and feel free to contact me if you have any questions. The job announcement is posted below:

ANNOUNCEMENT OF A VACANCY TENURE-TRACK OR LECTURER POSITION IN AMERICAN SIGN LANGUAGE Beginning Fall Semester 2003 (Website: No. 80 California State University, Sacramento (CSUS) invites applications from individuals interested in joining our dynamic and growing faculty. With a current student population in excess of 25,000, CSUS, the capital University is one of the larger campuses in the 23 campus California State University system, the largest system of higher education in the nation. The University is organized around seven colleges. There are approximately 1,500 faculty who provide programs of instruction leading towards bachelor's degrees in 60 disciplines, master's degrees in 40 disciplines and one joint doctoral program.

Sacramento is a high growth metropolitan area with a population of approximately 1.7 million. As California's capital, Sacramento is an advantageous setting for premier academic programs. As a major metropolitan University, CSUS is committed to providing leadership in addressing significant regional needs and to enriching our liberal arts tradition. The proximity of CSUS to the California legislature and other agencies of state and federal government provides unparalleled opportunities for faculty and students to participate in public service through policy research, internships, and employment.  

Minimum Qualifications:

Education: Earned doctorate, enrolled in a doctoral program or have completed a Master's degree in Sign Language/Deaf Studies, Interpreting, Linguistics, Special Education, School Psychology or related field. Candidates with a Master's degree only will be appointed as a Lecturer with possible reappointment for up to 2 years dependent on budget, curricular need, satisfactory performance and student enrollment. For ABD candidates, the position is temporary with possible conversion to tenure-track upon completion of doctorate by December 31, 2005 dependent on budget, curricular need, satisfactory performance and student enrollment. An earned doctorate is required for a tenure-track position.

Special Knowledge Native or near-native competency in American Sign Language. Experience teaching ASL and/or sign language interpreting at the college level. Ability to develop and teach a sign language interpreting curriculum preferred.

Abilities/Experience: Education and training related to ASL, the Deaf community and its culture. Must be able to teach American Sign Language and related coursework. Sensitivity to and understanding of the diverse academic, socioeconomic, cultural, disability and ethnic backgrounds of California college students. Several years' experience as sign language or Deaf/Relay interpreter preferred. Curriculum development experience a plus.

Tenure-track or Lecturer Position of American Sign Language Position No. 80


Duties will consist of teaching in a large program of Beginning, Intermediate and Advanced ASL classes that lead to a certificate. Assignment will include collaborating in the development of an ASL laboratory and the opportunity to develop other classes related to the culture of deafness for eventual development of a Bachelor's degree in ASL/Deaf Studies, Interpreting, or other related fields. May be asked to teach evenings and/or weekends.

Maintaining regular and close contact with the deaf community and community colleges in the college service area as related to the curriculum is required.

Responsibilities also include student advising, university service, ongoing scholarly activity and community involvement.

Appointment/Salary: Tenure-track Assistant Professor level if candidate possesses required earned doctorate; Lecturer level if candidate possess MA or ABD. For ABD candidates, the position may be converted to tenure track if the doctorate is completed by December 31, 2005. Salary negotiable based on experience and qualifications.


Transcripts, vita, three letters of recommendation and a letter of interest that addresses qualifications outlined in this announcement will be required. Applications will be screened continuously beginning November 4, 2002. Position is open until filled. Mail your materials to CSU, Sacramento; College of Education; Dr. William Harris, Chair; Department of Special Education, Rehabilitation, and School Psychology; 6000 J Street; Sacramento, CA 95819-6079.

2.  Why did you choose this profession?

Answer:  To capitalize on my abilities and minimize the impact of my hearing loss.
I am not "disabled" in the ASL classroom.  Rather, my status as a Deaf/hard-of-hearing person is considered a "plus" since it lends credibility.

3.  What are the chances for advancement?

Answer:  Advancement is expected--actually required.  I must progress toward "tenure" or my contract will lapse and I will be "out of a job."  [Tenure means: "Status granted to an employee, usually after a probationary period, indicating that the position or employment is permanent." Source: 2007].  Every few years, as long as I do a relatively good job, I will advance my title and corresponding pay rate from assistant professor, to associate professor, to full professor.  For many years prior to getting my doctorate I taught at various colleges as an "adjunct" (part-time) instructor.

4.  What are your working conditions like?

Mostly civilized and collegial. Occasional politics.  I have my own office.  I teach in a classroom. My time is very, very flexible other than the 12 or so hours that I am actually in the classroom and a few hours of meetings per week.  I can generally choose which hours I want to teach for the upcoming semester.

5.  What emotional and physical demands do you have with this profession?
You have to be self-confident in the classroom in order to create an environment that is engaging and controllable.  You have to be sensitive to your student's needs and egos. You have to be able to handle a little criticism when it comes time for the students to evaluate you as an instructor.  If you are a good instructor then there isn't much criticism, but if you are inept you will get roasted by the students.  I work hard to get high evaluations because I have a strong dislike of criticism.   The main physical demands are on general stamina, the ability to "think on your feet, in front of an audience " good eyesight, and sturdy wrists.  Carpal tunnel syndrome or repetitive motion injury is common in this field.

6.  What qualifications or training is needed for this job?
In general you need "signing skills," "teaching skills" and a bachelors for an entry-level part-time instructor position.  For a full-time position at a "junior" or "community college" the requirements are somewhat less stringent than they are at a 4-year University. 
I'll share with you my early "training" that led to my becoming an ASL teacher:

I remember my first ASL class.  Growing up hard of hearing, I had always wanted to learn ASL.  Hard of hearing kids tend to retreat into activities that don't require a lot of spoken communication and I was no exception. Reading was my main activity and so I spent considerable time at the library.  One day I noticed a free ASL class was being offered at the library.  The instructor turned out to be a Deaf woman by the name of Kathy Hadfield. (She later married Mark Erwin of Brigham City, Utah).

Kathy didn't have a "curriculum."  All she had was enthusiasm.  It was enough.  I was hooked and have been learning ASL ever since. 

I went through an intense nine-week ASL immersion program in Provo, Utah. Then I traveled to several states and lived with Deaf roommates, and hung out with Deaf people while doing volunteer work.  Some of the places I volunteered include the the GLAD Orange County Outreach in California, the Indiana School for the Deaf (as a teacher's assistant in Laura Gaalema's third grade class),  the (former) Indiana Branch Office (anybody remember that outfit?) of the National Association of the Deaf, and many other places. I lived on-campus at Gallaudet University for a summer. I took night classes at the Oregon School for the Deaf (Salem). I've studied ASL at four different colleges, including hundreds of hours at California State University Northridge.

I remember teaching my first ever ASL class at a local church for free.  I had no real idea what I was doing. Parents used to drop off their kids and drive away--thrilled to have a free a baby sitter.  Obviously I had a lot to learn.

I remember teaching my first college class. I taught that one for free too.  I had approached the department chair.   He had a list of reason why I couldn't do it.

The department Chair:  You don't have a degree.
Me:  I've asked [the regular teacher]. He has agreed to mentor me and supervise the class.
The Chair:  We don't have any money to pay you.
Me:  I'll teach it for free.
The Chair:  It is too late to get it in the catalog.
Me:  I'll post flyers.
The Chair:  There won't be enough students register to make it go.
Me:  I did a survey and have several pages of names and contact information of interested students.
The Chair:  The dean will have to approve this: 
Me:  I'll get his approval.

And I did.

The class was so large they had to put it in a lecture hall.  I taught it using the old "ABCs of ASL" book.  Worked my tail off.  Got good evaluations.

Then I asked the department let me teach as an adjunct.  They indicated that there still wasn't any money.  After a bit of investigation I found that the Department of Continuing Education would be delighted to pay me as long as the class filled. I asked "How many students is that?"   They informed me it had to be at least 16.  I smiled knowing that they would be amazed come registration time.

And so I taught my first paid college course to a group of middle aged women. Or at least it seemed to me they were middle aged.  Let's just say, I was the youngest person in that classroom.  I was a college sophomore at the time. 

It wasn't long before I took out a business license, hung a shingle, and posted an ad in the yellow pages.  This was back when the yellow pages were really yellow--and really on pages (paper).  It's been a wild, enjoyable ride ever since. 

We can take ASL acquisition to a new level.  And have a great time doing it. Really!  I once won a bet that I could teach a complete novice the fingerspelled alphabet in under five minutes and have her successfully repeat it back to me. I had a great time pushing her to her limits.  She had a great time rising to the challenge. Most of people at that sign language party didn't think it could be done but there was no doubt in my mind. 

There is so much to tell you:  The no-voice excursions to Disneyland, the government contracts, setting up a studio, setting up an ITP, lobbying for ASL as a foreign language, making my first video, self-publishing my first book, finding a deaf wife, selling the house and going back to school, writing a dissertation, developing a "discourse-based" approach to ASL instruction, and teaching what I believe is the first college-credit beginning-level internet-based ASL course in the world.

7.  What are the benefits of this career?

Answer:  [Editor's note: The response below is an updated version from the original.  The new response is a copy of my "How much do ASL instructors earn per hour article.]

Annual pay for college instructors varies widely depending on where you live, how many years you've been teaching, how high of a degree you have, whether you teach extra classes, and how good you are at salary negotiation. In California, as of 2018, a typical full-time tenure track ASL teacher position at a two-year community college will have a starting range of $48,359.83 - $83,137.87 annually.

So it is not unusual for a full-time ASL teacher to receive an annual salary of $50,000. This would be typical for someone who has a masters degree, has been teaching a few years at a reasonably prestigious institution that offers associate degrees in a state with a relatively high cost of living. That $50K amount is typically based on teaching two semesters a year at a course load of 12 units per semester (which is about twelve classroom-contact-hours per week). Typically that would include preparing, teaching, and grading from 3 to 5 classes per week, attending one or two committee meetings per week, and putting in 3 or so office hours per week. Those activities take place 32 weeks out of the year.

But that doesn't tell us how much you make "per hour."

Two teachers earning the exact same annual salary can earn vastly different sums per hour.

The more you prepare for each class, the less you make per hour. The earlier you arrive to class and the later you stay after class--the less you earn per hour. The more committee meetings you go to--the less you earn per hour. The more clubs you advise--the less you earn per hour. The more paperwork you take the time to fill out--the less you earn per hour. The more high maintenance (or "dependent") students you have, the less you make per hour. ("Dependent" students are those that depend on you to do for them things that other students do on their own. For example, "read the syllabus". A dependent student will email you half way through the semester to ask about the makeup policy (because it is--in their mind--easier than finding and reading the syllabus). An independent student will read the syllabus on his own and see the policy for himself.)

When people find out that a college instructor only spends around 12 hours a week "teaching" -- those people often inaccurately assume that means the instructor is only "working" 12 hours a week. Let's plug in some typical time expenditures and get a feel for the real number of hours an instructor might work.

College-level ASL instructor time expenditure per week:
02.0 hours: Walking to, setting up, and taking down classroom
12.0 hours: Teaching
01.0 hours After class student walk-up time (4 classes per week meeting twice a week)
03.0 hours: Office hours
02.0 hours: Student advising beyond office hours (can be much higher).
04.0 hours: Grading assignments / recording grades / reporting grades
01.0 hours: Retention / Tenure / Promotion record keeping (do this or you will be out of a job later)
02.0 hours: Public relations (interactions with coworkers and administrators) (politics)
07.0 hours: Processing and responding to work email (for many this is more like 20 hours per week)
04.0 hours: Preparing lessons (depends on if you are new or have been teaching for a while)
02.0 hours: Attending committee and other meetings (varies widely)

Total: 40 hours per week
The above time amounts are actually rather conservative. Some teachers invest a lot more time each week.
In general though you can figure 32 weeks times 40 hours per week--which equals 1,280 hours per year.
$50,000.00 divided by 1,280 hours equals around $39 an hour (or $39.0625).

So, it would not be far-fetched to suggest that if you were to gain employment as a college ASL instructor you might find yourself putting in 40 hours a week, 32 weeks a year, at approximately $40 an hour. If you teach extra classes during summers and interim sessions or teach for two different universities at the same time (full-time for one, part-time for another) you could supplement this amount substantially. If your are involved in curriculum development, setting up a new program, or redesigning your courses to integrate with an online course management system your pay per hour that semester could be close to minimum wage. Not kidding here folks.

Remember, the actual number of hours and the rate of pay is going to vary widely from region to region and from teacher to teacher.

8.  How long have you been in this profession?

About 20 years [Update: As of 2018 it has now been 30 years. ]

 9.  Is there a dress code for your position?
Where I work some people teach in jeans and sweatshirts.  I personally wear slacks and a tie. The college environment is a bit more flexible than the high school environment.  But it varies by location.

 10.  What do you like most about your job?

"Academic Freedom."  I am very nearly my "own boss."  As a full-time, tenure track instructor I get to choose how I run my class.  I have great latitude in my curriculum choices.  This has allowed me to develop my own curriculum.

I meet hundreds of new people each semester.  Many of these people become my friends.

 11.  What is the most challenging thing about your job?
Dealing with slacker students who are only taking the class to fill graduation language requirements.

12.  What kind of skills do you use on a daily basis?

Public "speaking," humor, tact, ability to generate enthusiasm, "listening," computer literacy, typing, relationship building, patience, and classroom leadership.

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