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Educators Offer Consistent Reasons for Working in Higher Ed

Posted on Wednesday January 16, 2013 by Michael Keathley


Fairly often when I tell people I work in education, I am asked: “Why would anyone want to be a teacher?” The responses to this question are consistent within the most hostile socio-political context, over time, and even delivery modality. Here are three examples.

In Bad Times
The recent election season and concerns about the student debt bubble produced an anti-education climate that currently pervades American culture. In spite of this, I argued that now is the best time to work in higher education. As I wrote in “When Education Is under Attack, Why Become a Teacher?” (29 June, 2012), there are at least four main reasons to work in postsecondary education:

    1. Non-financial rewards—priceless! Most of us go into education with hopes of helping and inspiring others. It’s impossible to put a value on the “a-ha” moments when students grasp a concept or share how applying something learned in a class has improved their lives.

    2. More opportunities. Face-to-face, hybrid, online, MOOCs, mobile learning, apps, etc., the list of ways and means to ply our trade keeps growing. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of such a progressive and inventive profession?

    3. The chance to shape the future. As I asked last summer, “In what other profession does a person have the opportunity on a daily basis to inspire and spark ideas that may lead to solutions [to problems] and a better life for us all?”

    4. Who better than you? Teachers tend to be altruistic, intelligent, hardworking, and generous.

Given the above four reasons, who wouldn’t want to pursue a career in education?

Why Indeed
Last week, Inside Higher Ed’s Dayna Catropa and Margaret Andrews shared “Survey Results: Why People Decide to Work in Higher Ed,” (10 January, 2013). The findings of this recent study mirror what I shared above. Out of 464 faculty who ranged from beginners to veterans and who gave 559 replies:

    • 218 said higher education is their calling, that they love what they do, and that it is interesting work.

    • 128 said they like the mission of higher education as well as the culture and atmosphere.

    • 86 cited the opportunity to have impact, to make a difference, and to help students.

    • 70 responded that their career was not planned; they found careers in postsecondary education by accident.

    • 57 provided more random answers (e.g., that it was a family business).

Among new faculty, the opportunity to have an impact was the most common response, but overall there wasn’t much difference in feeling based on how long respondents had been teaching. What is also significant, is that 57% of the respondents have taught more than ten years and another 20% have taught 6-10 years. This would seem to indicate sincerity among educators that they truly feel academia is their calling and that they enjoy what they do.

In fact, the results were the same almost five years ago when Edutopia’s Elena Aquilar posed the same question to educators: “Why do you teach?” (4 September, 2008). Note that she and nearly all of the 143 educators at all levels who responded indicated their passion for the profession and their desire to impact the world favorably.

Given the passion educators express for helping their students and making a difference in their lives, why would anyone working in academia want to distance themselves from their students by working online? Because here, too, the reasons for working in higher education remain largely the same.

Virtual Truth
What may perhaps sound a bit ironic is that some faculty feel they can connect with and serve some students better within elearning than in traditional face-to-face delivery.

George P. Shell wrote about this in eLearn Magazine (“Why I Teach Online Courses,” (September 2004). He stated that he teaches online because students:

    • Need to understand the importance of information technology in their daily lives. Technology is everywhere, especially as a sought after skill in today’s workforce, and it would be a disservice to let students graduate if they have not been exposed to at least one online course where their technology skills could be enhanced.

    • Learn better when they are fully immersed in a subject. Online courses by their very nature engage students at a deeper, more meaningful level. For example, elearning forces students to read and write more than in a F2F class because they will have to read, interpret, and follow directions; write discussion responses; type in chat rooms; communicate via email; utilize a word processing program to compose papers; and other such tasks.

Shell concludes with a powerful statement that I think most educators would agree with: “I want my students to do more than compete, I want them to succeed” (September 2004).

Over at least the last decade, and despite the movement into elearning, educators chose their profession and even their delivery modality because they are passionate about bettering the lives of others including themselves.

Are you a virtual educator? Let’s get a conversation going in the comments area below. Why do you work online?

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