Many alumni express a desire to return to the classroom sometime in their mid-to late-careers, to return in the role of teacher rather than student. Here are a set of considerations for taking this path based on interviews with three alumni, Mike Thompson (MBA ’85), Laura Curran (MBA ’93) and Tom Smallhorn (MBA ’94). Mike has taught in higher education as an adjunct professor during his business career; Laura taught for twelve years in the Cal State University system; and Tom just started an “encore” job teaching two undergraduate marketing courses at Clemson University.
The first and perhaps most important question to ask oneself is, “What am I an expert at?” In other words, what am I qualified to teach, and what am I passionate enough about to seek an outlet for my knowledge? Understanding what you want to teach will help you focus on the where/how questions — the type of teaching institution and the type of role.
There are many pathways into higher ed teaching, both in tenure track, and non-tenure track roles. The latter, such as a lecturer or adjunct professor, have no responsibilities for research or departmental service. Teaching roles, and titles, are tied to the institution. Some examples are professor of practice, assistant professor, visiting professor, online teaching, guest lecturer, etc. Requirements vary widely, and it’s important to learn the system that you want to target.
Work experience in your “expert” area along with the MBA is often enough to qualify for some teaching roles. Laura’s MBA and work experience qualified her to teach at the undergraduate and graduate university level in areas such as business, government and society, organizational behavior, business writing and supply chain management (thank you Darden Operations team!). Additional qualifications and certifications can help. Laura also holds an MA in Linguistics & ESL, which gave her an edge in the large Cal State system. Mike has been a life-long learner, earning certificates in several topics (e.g. instructional design, emotional intelligence and others).
It’s a good idea to gain some experience in smaller teaching gigs before pursuing a full-time job. In your business career, embrace public speaking opportunities, conduct training, or volunteer as a panelist at industry conferences. These are a few ways to try out “commanding the room” and see if feels like a good fit. Talk to teachers at all levels and explore what they like and dislike about the work. Seek out connections inside your local academic institutions, including community colleges and vocational/technical schools. Make yourself available as guest lecturer, or ask to observe or audit classes that are relevant to your expertise.
Tom found that “guest lecturing helped me understand my interest level” as did having numerous conversations with folks who had moved from business to academia. “Interestingly, two former Pepsi colleagues made all the difference in helping me find this [encore] job,” he says.
Laura recommends connecting to assistant deans and department chairs. They are “responsible for hiring” so a referral can be helpful, remembering that these positions regularly turn over. Mike suggests the Chronicle of Higher Education as a good source of information and job leads.
Hitting Your Stride
Commanding the classroom means bringing your business expertise, and it can also include using cases in a way appropriate for your students. Laura establishes student teams in each class, giving them an opportunity to lead a case discussion and develop case activities. She’s found that Darden Business Publishing offers excellent cases in most subject areas and will help you identify appropriate cases.
More broadly, remember that a role in higher ed is a big commitment beyond the classroom. Other critical (and time-consuming) aspects include curriculum/syllabus development, textbook selection, instructional research (cases, papers, guest speakers, etc.), exam creation (and grading!), and several administrative tasks. You’ll have to learn the institution’s software, communications protocols and teaching environment. Tom reports, “So far, I’m surprised at how software is leveraged to manage all aspects of teaching a course.”
Mike says prospective teachers should fully understand all that’s involved in the role, such as student engagement and connection. Apart from running the class, you take on a general responsibility for your students. There will be myriad interactions with them: advising, dealing with specific requests (or complaints) and writing recommendations, to name a few. Laura was happy to experience “how fun teaching can be — how much students want to learn.” Teaching is indeed a noble calling, challenging and fulfilling in many ways.
If you’d like support in any career transition, reach out to Alumni Career Services to schedule a time to meet with one of our coaches.