The one thing that drew me to Kent State 20 years ago remains the one thing that keeps me here: Helping young people succeed in their lives and careers. Nothing else about this job matters to me. Nothing.
But after 20 years, I feel compelled to share a few thoughts:
Teaching college is a full-time job and then some. Maybe you know this already, but I’m shocked by the number of fools who think I work 20 hours a week and spend the rest of my time hunting and fishing. I work ALL THE TIME. It’s more of a calling than a job, and I minister to a pretty large flock.
The pay doesn’t suck. Oh, there was a time that it did. When I came to Kent State in 1992, I was earning about $60K a year in the real world. Kent State offered me $36K, and there was no negotiating. I took the job because I knew it was the perfect place for me. After 20 years of small and steady raises, and a few merit-pay bumps along the way, I earn a living wage. But my real-world counterparts with the same experience and abilities still earn twice what I do and more.
Academic politics ain’t so bad. What’s that old joke? The reason academic politics are so vicious is because the stakes are so small! Yep. There’s so little to fight for in the academy that it’s amazing anyone can even get angry. But they do. They anguish over the chickenshit stuff and make themselves miserable in the process. When I was 24 and a lowly PR account executive in Detroit, the boss gave me a great piece of advice: Don’t sweat the little stuff, kid. And I don’t.
It’s all about the students. Everything I do in my professional life is aimed at helping our students succeed. And that includes those “candid” notes I write atop student assignments and essays — and those private sessions when I suggest it may be time to find another major. In a way, teaching is a lot like parenting: Keep your promises to your kids or they won’t trust you. But enforce the consequences for poor performance or they won’t excel.
The rewards of teaching. Few jobs offer the level of gratification one gets from teaching. But rather than try to describe it, let me instead quote from a handwritten note a student left for me late last week as she was headed to her commencement.
…I’m so glad I got to work with you. Earning this master’s degree has changed my life as a professional. I would be lost without this program, the professors, and this opportunity to grow. Best of luck to you. And please keep in touch.
You can bet we will, Anne. It’s why we teach.