I’ve felt over the past month or so that there seem to be too many posts in this blog that might infer that teaching in higher education is not a great career. There also have been findings lately that too few graduate students want to become professors these days.
So allow me a personal note.
Higher education teaching, approached and pursued passionately, is one of the most respectable, most rewarding, most fulfilling careers there is. How do I know? I was a college and university professor and administrator for 40 years until I retired in 2013.
Yes, the whole enterprise changed dramatically over the years, although probably not as much as it should have changed. Students changed faster and higher education has often struggled to keep up. But I have typed my syllabi on typewriters and on computers. I have written on blackboards and whiteboards. I have used slide projectors, 16mm film projectors, and YouTube. I have lectured, not lectured, flipped classrooms, and created endless group projects. And I have worked in the United States and abroad.
So, other than the very obvious and gratifying reasons of helping students become educated citizens, helping them understand skills, and watching them figure out the dreams they wanted to pursue, why did I find higher education interesting enough to spend a lifetime pursuing?
Because it was a sort of calling, a no-business-like-show-business string of years and decades, an endless way to always stay young because youth was all around me, and a series of beginnings and ends that brought anticipation and relief and hellos and goodbyes to a level beyond imagination. Sure the hours were long and the grading and research requirements were daunting. But every career has its hard and often tedious work.
I pursued my career because I couldn’t imagine what those businessmen who went to an office in a skyscraper and didn’t teach or advise did all day for enjoyment and satisfaction. Because of the good kids (and colleagues), the problem kids (and colleagues), the driven kids (and colleagues), and the kids (and colleagues) I knew shouldn’t be there. Because of the spotlight, the chances to shine, and to fail, and to wear different hats at different times, and to never really be bored, or know what might be coming.
Because, selfishly, tenure meant security. Because my office could be as messy as I wanted it to be and that was okay. Because books surrounded me. Because conversations were stimulating. Because it allowed me the deepest thinking and longest deliberations about subjects and disciplines. And because the rewards were so much greater than money. Higher education gave me prizes, surprises and the satisfaction that I got better and better and finally looked upon myself as the best teacher I ever was in the semester I retired.
And finally, as the song says, it was also “the costumes, the scenery, the makeup, the props, the audience that lifts you when you're down.”
Yep, being a professor is a great life.