Teaching: making the dream come true

December 11, 2013

My classroom last year

My classroom last year

I was hooked on teaching the minute I stood in front of 300 freshmen and sophomores and prepared to teach my very first college class. It was a fluke, really, a duty of my graduate assistantship at a large university in Florida, but a lucky one.

The following year I began a Ph.D program, but life happened—a divorce– and I needed to support myself. Business seemed the quickest way to make a living, so I dropped out and never looked back.

But 30 years later, an opportunity to teach as an adjunct professor in another university’s school of communications came up. Since I already had a Master’s degree, I was more than qualified, and once in the classroom again, I felt that little “click” that said I was doing exactly what I should be doing. I was lucky—I learned how to structure a course from really great college professors.

But most adjuncts have no teacher training at all. It’s a disadvantage, in my opinion. Business and teaching were very different, I found, and because I’d jumped in head-first, I learned through trial and error.

In my business career, authority was granted by title and position. I had both in my day job. But 21st century students expected their college professors to earn their credibility and their right to authority. I found that a light but firm touch with students—and some flexibility—got me the required credibility.

For me, the best part of teaching is the one-on-one interaction with students: the ability to get to know them and nurture their young talents. I was lucky in my first teaching gig—administration was largely hands-off and gave teachers the flexibility to develop a syllabus and teach the way they felt most comfortable. I was able to adapt the classroom experience to the specific group of students and coming to class each evening was a joyful experience.

I thought it was that way at all schools, but in my second gig a few years later, there were more restrictions. That school sought a standard, even cookie-cutter approach to educating students and administration wielded a heavy hand. Although I still loved working with students, the administration sucked much of the joy out of the experience. I learned quickly that before taking a gig, I needed to delve more deeply into what a school required and the amount of oversight in the classroom.

If you’re thinking of transitioning from business to teaching, my best advice is this:

  1. Your rank and privilege in a non-academic job mean nothing. When you walk in the classroom for the first time, be prepared to earn your credibility with students and administration.
  2. Today’s young people don’t respond to authoritarian tactics in the classroom. Stand your ground when it matters and be flexible about the stuff that doesn’t.
  3. You shouldn’t be the only one interviewing –you should be interviewing the school, too, to see if their policies and procedures fit your requirements.
  4. If you long to teach at the college or junior-college level, you’ll need a Master’s degree in a related subject area, but you aren’t required to take education courses. Still, if you’ve never done training or teaching before, it’s a good idea. Trial and error is a tough way to learn. The quickest, easiest and most convenient way to get some basic training in course development is online. If you need a Master’s, the online option is available in many subject areas, as well.

For me, there’s nothing more rewarding than teaching college-age students. I’m on a writing break right now, but expect to be looking for a classroom job again in a year. I look forward to it!

Whether you’re seeking further success in your current role or a new opportunity, Kaplan University can help you prepare for the exciting possibilities ahead.*

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* Kaplan University cannot guarantee employment or career advancement.

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27 comments on “Teaching: making the dream come true
  1. sandra tyler says:

    I taught for years and my favorite was graduate students; classes that happened to be mostly women, coming back to school in middle age or older because they finally had the time to pursue their writing dreams. And rich material to explore.

    • admin says:

      I had the opposite experience with grad students. They weren’t at all as much fun as the undergrads. But, I wasn’t teach writing to grad students.

  2. Sheryl says:

    I can teach – I have my MFA – but the thought of it terrifies me!

    • admin says:

      I think you’d be surprised at how comfortable it is–because you know what you’re talking about and have that comfort level with the material. If you think you might like to try, start small…;-))

  3. Kiki Dunigan says:

    I taught at a Junior College for 6 years back in the early 90’s. It was the most fun and rewarding job I’ve ever had! Adult students are not only eager to learn, but take the coursework seriously. I had academic discussions in my classrooms that taught me as much as my students, and the opportunity for lively conversation centered on a subject that interests me filled a huge void in my life. I miss it!

  4. My sister is going back to school to get her master’s so she can teach. So rewarding and so important.

  5. I’m heading towards public speaking, with a teaching element. I’ve thought about teaching at the local community college on blogging–having done some presentations for other groups. It is fun to teach if you’ve got that inclination!

    • admin says:

      Well, you’ll never get rich teaching, but it’s super-rewarding. The more you know your material the easier it is to teach it, so I know you’d be great. I’m going to love hearing you speak at big national sessions! Let me know when you hit the Bay area, which is bound to happen!

  6. Estelle says:

    Congratulations on doing adjunct teaching. All of what you say is correct. I was an adjunct teacher at NYU teaching writing health and beauty for magazines and really enjoyed connecting with the students.

  7. Thanks for sharing such good advice Carol!

    • admin says:

      😉 Did I tell you I’m making your balsamic chicken for New Year’s Day? It’s a huge hit in our household and we are sharing the deliciousness with a friend!

  8. I love teaching and working with young, eager (and-not-so-eager) minds! Though I would also enjoy working with college students some day, most of my associations have been with elementary aged students… Keep dreaming and teaching and best with your writing project!!

    • admin says:

      I had the chance to visit with my favorite and most influential teacher a month before she died and tell her what she meant to my life–her family told me that it made her last days so happy. I would feel the same way!

      • Wow…to be able to let her know how much she impacted your life! I imagine that that would have a tremendous affect on her spirit!

        Every day we just go about our business, doing what we do, living our lives, trying to be kind and compassionate and caring…and all too often we never know that we have made a difference in someone’s life, let alone set them on such a trajectory as a career path! I’m sure she felt the blessings, just as you did!!

        Thanks for sharing that in this reply because it really warmed my heart!! <3

  9. Among my favorite places to speak are high school and college campuses–the energy, the engagement–so much fun. And you are so right, credibility is something one earns. Great post!

  10. Lisa Froman says:

    I think teaching is an art…and we need more creative-minded individuals in the school system–at all levels. It doesn’t surprise me to hear that some of the school “systems” were creativity killers. It’s a shameful truth.

    I am thinking you’re a natural born teacher…many of your blogs have a teaching element to them, in my opinion. They’re creative and thoughtful, too.

    • admin says:

      Thanks, Lisa! That is such a nice compliment. My husband says it and so do some of my students. I think I am, too, but I realized it later in life. That’s the great thing about this age–we get who we are and can doing something about it if we wish!

  11. Haralee says:

    I agree a teaching background helps people be teachers. My sister has taught at the College level for years and has taught post grad students who want to become teachers how to teach. It is another art!

  12. Jessica Bern says:

    I just never understand these corporations/schools that are so damn rigid. It just gets under my skin. They are so lucky to have people like ou and then they wonder why their turnover is so high.

    • admin says:

      Yes, I think they just don’t see education as any more than a commodity to be bought and sold. That particular school was a for-profit. I had a much better experience in at the Univ. of Tampa, a private school with a kick-ass faculty. They offered me a year long non-tenured appointment (since I didn’t have a PhD and they were looking for one and didn’t like the original candidates) but I was leaving for Calif with new/old hubby and just didn’t want to stay back or commute. I would’ve loved it, though.

  13. Here’s my best quote after teaching writing and lit at college level for a number of years: “Standing in front of a classroom is the best high there is.” To which, someone replied: “That just shows you don’t do drugs, Jane.”

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