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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
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