"I think I might like to teach someday..."
I've had dozens of people make some variation of that comment to me over the years, usually in response to learning that I serve as a part-time marketing instructor for the Schulich School of Business.
My response is usually to smile, mostly because I know how much I enjoy teaching and how fortunate I am to be able to do so on a regular basis.
And partially because I know that most people who say this don't realize how much work can be involved in being a part-time instructor.
If you've ever thought you might like to teach one day, allow me to share a few thoughts.
There are many, many benefits to being a part-time instructor.
Money... is not one of them.
Sure, if you were to count only the hours spent in the classroom, then teaching at a university seems as though it could be fairly lucrative part-time work.
The problem is that counting only those hours would be foolishly naïve.
When a part-time teaching contract offers a fixed amount per course, it means the more time you spend on a course, the less you make per hour. And once you include all the hours you spend preparing classes, grading assignments, answering student questions, and addressing student concerns, you'd quite literally make more on an hourly basis as a Starbucks barista than you would as a part-time university instructor.
Trust me, I've done the math. And when you work at Starbucks, you get free coffee.
So if you don't teach for the money, why do it?
I've found there are five great reasons:
1. It's the perfect job for knowledge junkies.
I've always loved school because I love to learn. And working as a part-time instructor gives me access to an almost unlimited amount of information. I get "Instructor Access" to business journals, academic research, subscription websites like Statista, case studies from the Harvard Business School (along with the accompanying Teacher Notes), and so much more. Any time I want to learn anything about any business topic, everything I could possibly want to know is just a few clicks away after I sign in to the university website. And for a knowledge junkie, that's absolutely amazing.
Plus, you know what they say: the best way to learn something is to teach it. Seriously, the next time you want to become an expert on a subject really, really quickly... offer to teach it to someone, and schedule a date for the lesson. It can be a really stressful way to learn something, but it's also very, very effective.
2. It helps me become a better business person.
As I wrote last year, teaching makes me a better speaker, a better thinker, and a better marketer, because I need all of these skills to be an effective marketing instructor. Teaching consistently allows me a regular opportunity to "sharpen my sword" and become better at my day job. After all, practice makes perfect.
3. It helps me stay current.
For the past few years, I've taught a "Retail Marketing Strategies" MBA course. Because the retail landscape is constantly changing, I'm forced to stay current to ensure my students learn the latest information and trends.
And because my students are often significantly younger than me, I get to stay on top of the latest trends that way too. It's not uncommon for a student to mention a new store, concept, technology, or idea with which I was previously unfamiliar. The learning goes both ways.
4. The feedback is both genuine and useful.
Students often send me feedback throughout the course, but I'm always skeptical about praise I receive while the course is still happening: do they really enjoy the course, or do they simply believe that telling me that will convince me to grade their papers more leniently? (And to any future students reading this: compliments won't help your grade.)
But at the end of every course, students are asked to rate the class and the instructor. And by the time the instructor sees this feedback, the grades have already been finalized and submitted, so students have no incentive to hold back at that point. And most of them don't.
From both the qualitative and quantitative feedback I've gotten from each of the courses I've taught to date, I've learned that students are rarely indifferent towards me: they either LOVE me or HATE me. And in any case, the feedback they provide helps me to learn what I'm doing well, and understand where I can improve. It isn't always easy to read, but if the goal is to consistently improve, it's usually very helpful.
5. You can actually make a difference.
A few weeks into the very first MBA course I taught, after handing students back their recently-graded assignments, a student approached me and asked if he could speak with me about his paper. "Oh great," I thought, "I have a complainer who wants to try and negotiate a higher mark." But it wasn't that at all. I know that because this student began by saying, "Professor, I don't care about my mark. I want to know how I can improve."
I have all the time in the world for students with that attitude.
So we arranged a time to chat, and I explained everything I thought he had missed in his assignment and everything I would have liked to see. And you know what? His next assignment was much, much better. And so was his next one. In fact, despite not caring about his grade, he finished the course with the highest mark in the class.
And at the very end of the course, he came up to me, shook my hand, and said, "Professor, thank you for everything. My family owns a chain of retail stores back in India, and I'm going to apply everything I learned in your course to grow my family business and make it better."
As an instructor, there's no better feeling than that.
It's always nice when a student tells you, "Professor, this was my favourite class!" I've had that happen a few times, and of course, I'm always glad to hear it.
But the greatest compliment a student can give me is, "Professor, I learned a lot from you."
Perhaps that's because I've been fortunate to have had so many great teachers in my life. Teachers like John Lettieri, my high school music teacher who taught me an invaluable lesson about compassion. Professors like Peter Zarry, who not only gave me several opportunities to push myself beyond the curriculum but also taught me a few important life lessons along the way. And so many more.
I fully realize I might not ever have the kind of profound impact on one of my students that Mr. Lettieri and Professor Zarry had on me.
But I can certainly try.
P.S. The photo at the top of this post is of my most recent MBA class, an amazing group of students I really enjoyed teaching this past term. The photo is being used with permission: my students were informed before it was taken that if they chose to participate in the class photo, it would likely be published online and shared on my LinkedIn profile... but they were given the option not to participate by turning off their cameras. Only four students did so.