Professionals find fulfillment in shepherding students
MIAMI -- For at least five hours a week, nurse practitioner Annabelle Scott breaks away from the chaos of Mercy Hospital's cardiac unit, takes time out from her duties as a mother, and commutes to Miami Dade College, where she teaches as an adjun...
MIAMI -- For at least five hours a week, nurse practitioner Annabelle Scott breaks away from the chaos of Mercy Hospital's cardiac unit, takes time out from her duties as a mother, and commutes to Miami Dade College, where she teaches as an adjunct professor.
"It's a euphoric feeling, being in the classroom," said Scott, a clinical practice specialist whose most popular course is in bedside manner.
At a time when more workers feel unfulfilled by their jobs, being an adjunct professor has become an outlet for balance in their lives. At the nation's rich mix of public and private four-year institutions and community colleges, working professionals are getting inspiration and perspective from the younger generation.
Scott said teaching has become the ultimate power hobby.
"With a full-time job and a busy life, you have to love it to do it," she said.
Even one course can consume as much as 10 hours a week, factoring in drive time, class time, preparation and grading. Heidi Carr, Broward County editor for The Miami Herald, teaches news reporting at the University of Miami and pointed out to me that the commitment also requires making yourself available to students when they need help, often at odd hours and even after they graduate.
The reasons working professionals take on this side job are many, but rarely for financial terms. "It's not the money," said Carr, who has been a journalism instructor at UM for four years. "It's about giving back to the community and the challenge of motivating students."
Carr said she would rather sacrifice time with friends than give up teaching. "My priorities have changed. I'm getting a lot out of it, and I think my students are, too."
Depending on the school, teaching can be a coveted symbol of success. In the more prestigious universities, these gigs aren't easy to get. At University of Miami School of Law, only 10 percent of those who apply for the handful of adjunct slots available each year land a spot, said Douglas K. Bischoff, associate dean for adjunct faculty at the law school. Most offers go to judges and attorneys whom the law school has contacted because of their particular expertise. "It's prestigious because you are part of the education of the next generation and because if we pick you, it means we believe you are pre-eminent in your field."
Bischoff said that to lure busy lawyers or judges with massive caseloads, the law school will offer certain courses early in the morning or at night. "We know they are sacrificing personal and family time. We know how (seriously) they take it, so we accommodate their schedule," he said.
Tom Schultz, a law partner at Tew Cardenas, rises at dawn to fight Miami traffic and engage students in learning litigation skills. Schultz got an adjunct job in the UM law school 28 years ago and said teaching has played an important role in his life. He has forged bonds with other adjuncts, cherry-picked bright law students for his firm, and learned new trial techniques from students and other professors.
"It has been satisfying in many respects," Schultz said.
Adjuncts usually earn a four-figure stipend or small honorarium. In contrast, most tenured professors earned between $60,000 and $110,000 last year, according to American Association of University Professors. Gwendolyn Bradley, the group's communications director, said the trend is toward more part-time or adjunct positions and fewer full-time and tenure-track positions. But some schools have cut back on adjuncts, preferring to plug gaps with full-time professors to save jobs.
Until this semester, Jeff Howard, a Miami interior designer, had taught a college course for 10 years to architecture students. This fall, his adjunct position was eliminated, affecting his sense of purpose. Howard said that initially he saw teaching as a way to recruit the cream of the crop to his expanding design firm, but eventually became inspired by the students' enthusiasm. He was impressed enough by their renderings to incorporate some of their ideas into his designs.
"I got so much satisfaction seeing these kids mature," Howard said.
The benefit is reciprocal. Working professionals who teach as a hobby offer students a window on the industry issues unfolding far from the academic world. Scott, for example, tells her students about real-patient scenarios that she encounters at Mercy Hospital.
Just as they do at work, these professionals go through a performance review, only more publicly. Before signing up for a course, Elissa DeCampli, a sophomore at UM, says she always checks a professor's reviews on RateMyProfessor.com. She chose Carr as an instructor because of her reviews boasting of the real world experience she brings to the course. "She's much more hands-on," DeCampli said.
DeCampli said having the right instructor is crucial in introductory courses. "They can either turn you on to a career path, or turn you off."
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