After over a decade in media and journalism, I began a career teaching higher ed. Having come from the professional field, I was not familiar with the world of academia beyond my experience as a student. I knew God put me in the right place but I had many misconceptions and lessons to be learned. Here are just some brief notes on things I learned the hard way.
ITS NOT JUST ABOUT TEACHING
Higher education is about far more than teaching. My fantasy vision of effortlessly imparting my wisdom on the future generation of journalists was quickly overshadowed by the behind-the-scenes of course preparation, constant meetings, recruiting efforts, official and unofficial advising, grading, office hours, course text review, networking, professional development, emailing, and other side activities. I would say only about 1/4 of my work is actually in the classroom and just as much goes home with me. Don’t read this as a complaint but rather the realization of what “teaching” actually is. It’s all very necessary for both the growth of the students and yourself.
When all of it hits you, there comes a sudden realization how beautifully complicated it all is. Similar to putting on a news show, there are so many elements worked on that must come together for that one moment, the classroom. When it goes poorly, you can see all the little missteps that went into it and hopefully learn from it. When it goes well, you can see all the little efforts that came together to generate the lightbulb in your students’ minds. That one brief moment is what makes it all worth it.
I CANT BE EVERYTHING TO EVERYONE
I was grading the midterm exams and turned into a complete mess. My confidence was zapped and I felt like a loser. A handful of students failed the exam. Frustrated, I took it personally and believed it to be my fault, somehow. Did I make it too hard? Did I not prepare my lessons well? Was there some magical technique that the senior faculty knew that I didn’t? I’m a terrible teacher, I thought.
Similarly, I had some students clearly show disdain towards me and my courses. I even got some negative comments on student reviews! Was I not nice and friendly? Some of those comments aren’t even true so what must I have done to be picked on? Is my teaching boring and worthless? I’m a terrible teacher, I thought again.
So I realized I’m not perfect. And after some reflection and mentoring, I realized neither are my students. Its easy to feel like the classroom of students are homogeneous but that can’t be further from the truth. I’ve got every shade of the rainbow in my classes and each student is an individual. No matter how passionate I am about the material, some students simply will not care. Some students have not learned great studying habits. Some are taking the class just to complete an elective. Some students think my stories are lame and my lectures boring. Some think they know better than me. Some students have personalities that don’t mesh well with mine.
I cannot be everything for everyone. I have to accept that. I am responsible for what I bring as a teacher but not what my students bring. You can bring a horse to water but can’t make it drink. With that, I am called to Christ-likeness and love them equally.
TALK TO EVERYONE
One of the things I love about journalism is what I learn from other people. I love listening to people’s experiences. I always find something I can take with me.
Any university is going to have a sizable staff that have a wealth of experience covering a wealth of topics. Taking the time to know my colleagues across campus opens my eyes to new teaching methods, resources, time management strategies, opportunities, and more. Teaching at a Christian university, I can hear how a business professor is incorporating the Bible into his lectures and adopt it myself. An English professor can share her favorite tool for helping with citation formatting. Going beyond my circle introduces me to new ideas I’d never have thought of.
I also learned to spend plenty of time with non-teaching staff, as well. I gain lots of insights into campus culture and activities by building relationships with secretaries, admission counselors, and even the food service employees. The added benefit of all this is I make plenty of friends to brighten my day!
IM JUST AS MUCH A STUDENT
I adopted a text on journalism and social media which had been published a year prior. It had some fresh ideas but I was surprised to see some of its strategies were already outdated. How could something so new already feel old? I might as well ask myself that question. Only a year out of the news business and some of what I know is already stale.
To be a great teacher, I have to be a great student. I constantly find myself trying to tap into the media vein. Furthermore, I need to study comprehensively various strategies, resources, and industry changes. Its like taking a world religions class where you are learning multiple, often conflicting beliefs.
Almost every free minute I get, I am reading and watching informative media, conversing with professionals, and consuming as much information relevant to my field, as possible. Take it as either exhausting or exhilarating but there is no end for the life-long learner.
A year under my belt. earning my red badge of courage, I find myself just as new as I did last fall. I believe that it will always be the case. While the task may be the same, every year will bring its own challenges, rewards, and lessons to be learned. I am grateful for the opportunity to be an educator. I am a pioneer on an unending quest of discovery.