So, what do you teach?

It is a line I would hear a lot from some folks and family, once I started working in higher education years ago.  The presumption being, if you work at a university, that must mean you are teaching.  I would attempt to explain I worked in computer support, and in later years instructional technology.  If confused looks still seemed to be underway, I’d offer the “I teach the teachers” line.

For most of my time working for a university, I would not have been qualified to teach anyway.  To teach undergraduate classes, you need at least a Masters-level degree.  Want to teach at the highest levels of higher education?  Now you need a doctoral, terminal degree.

{Isn’t the phrase “terminal degree” just creepy and wrong, in many different ways?  Death, end, over, finished, nothing more to learn?  As if that is the way Life works?}

But a few years ago, I was encouraged to attend our Graduate Education program.  I was very blessed to get one of the best teachers ever for a really fun topic on the class I used for a trial run.  Convinced I could do this, I built onto my B.S. in Computer Science with a M.S in Education, specialized with Instructional Technology Leadership.

I emerged in May 2006 with a new degree, soon followed by an old sense of deja vu.  I thought I would soon be able to teach for someone, somewhere.  Much like I thought I would get Computer Science related work soon after my undergraduate degree.  I did get to teach one of my ITL classes in the summer of 2007, but still could not find other teaching gigs.  Many resumes submitted to all the places you’ve heard of, offering online classes and not needing teachers to be physically present on the campus.  I was just about convinced it would never happen.  And made some other Big Decisions in Life based on this conviction.

Soon after, of course, is when I finally got my first serious follow-up.  Art Institute of Pittsburgh, Online Division, offered me a chance to teach one of their General Education classes, CPU101 Computer Literacy.  The year 2007 ended on a happy rewarding note.

I did the required training in early 2008, and just as soon as the next session of classes started, I taught my first CPU101 class.  I was reading through the texts as the students needed to, doing the assignment file work as they needed to, making sure I was immersed in what they needed to know and do.  As I write this, I’ve taught for over two years now, usually two classes each session, with 20 students in each, and 8 sessions in a given year.  It’s been great, and still is.

Recent news on the teaching front for me is how even more teaching is on the way.  The SBU ITL class I’ve taught twice before is being offered this summer to a smaller subset of students, in an online 3 weeks mode instead of the usual 2 weeks with half-days spent in a computer lab.  And, without naming names or locations at this early stage, I hope to be teaching what looks like a really cool class for a good friend, in less than a month.

After giving up, letting go, and trying to move on, the things I was looking for, finally happen.  It is a funny little pattern I’ve experienced more than once in my life.

I grew up on a farm, and watched as so many of those who were farming for a living, also worked a non-farm, full-time job.  Taking vacation from the job to be home on the farm to get hay cut, raked, baled and put away seemed like a rough way to go.  I probably thought it to myself more often than saying it out loud, but it seemed clever on my part to get good grades, get out of that rural hometown, and seek an education which would lead to one singular well-paying job.  I’d put in my 8 to 5, commute home, relax in the living room comfortable chair, reading or watching TV, then go to bed at a decent hour.  Wash/rinse/repeat until the weekend, when I could really relax and do as next to nothing as possible.

Since the time of my starting that Masters degree, I’ve not known anything like this.  Being a student is extra hard work, as it does not pay well.  But at least now, for giving up most of my evenings and weekends, there is financial, and more ethereal, rewards with the teaching I do.

I’m still not sure which I would choose, if I had to, between what I am doing now.  The university staff, technology support work I do Monday to Friday 8 to 5, or the teaching work in mostly online environments.  Money no object, the teaching would be fun, work from home stuff.  Which seems odd for me to say, as much of a techno-geek I am, who gets to use that like and comfort with technology to have fun will earning a living in the full-time, Monday to Friday 8 to 5 mode.

Work for a university has to be some of the nicest you can find.  And that is some of what happens when teaching online for a location hundreds if not thousands of miles away.  But living on adjunct work only, not really knowing for sure if that work will be there after just a few weeks or not, without any of the full-time benefits, does not seem a very sensible choice at this point in life.

Which makes daydreams of tractoring around the farm completely ludicrous.  Right?


~ by Neal Cross on April 27, 2010.

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