The return of Professor Paul – almost

I had a chance to return to teaching this week…but I’m not going to take it.

A few weeks ago, I was sitting at the bar and got to talking to the guy sitting next to me. He was an instructor at ITT, a for-profit university offering associate’s degrees. He told me he’s leaving at the end of the current term, and suggested that I come in and interview for his position. He assured me that the pay was good enough to at least make it worth considering.

I do miss teaching. I think it is what I was meant to do. Six years after leaving the University of Memphis, I’m still in touch with many of my former students. Seeing them succeed has made me very happy over the years. I enjoy my current web development job, but I don’t think that sitting in a cubicle working on a computer from 9 to 5 every day is exactly my highest calling.

So Wednesday I took a personal day from work and went in to talk with the dean. I had a great conversation with him. He’s all about reaching out to the students where they are – and sometimes they won’t get it and will be very frustrated, and you have to pull them out and give them confidence. And that’s basically what I did for five years at the U of M. I took students who had “math phobia” or “computer phobia” and showed them that they COULD do it. So I found the dean’s outlook very encouraging.

I was also encouraged by the fact that I’d be teaching some multimedia classes: Macromedia Director, Flash, Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and the like. I’ve always been a creative person but as a programmer there’s not a lot of opportunity for creative expression. I’m not a multimedia expert, but to teach you don’t need to be an expert in a subject – you just have to be a couple of steps ahead of the students, and willing to learn from them as well as them from you.

So they gave me a tour of the building and I met everyone. Then I drove out to the U of M to get a transcript of my graduate coursework, and then I went home to think. I decided to take a night to sleep on it.

The next morning my intuition rang out loud and clear: Don’t take the job.

Part of it was little things that I knew would add up to bug me. One of my greatest joys at the U of M was wandering the campus between classes, being outside. But ITT doesn’t have a campus, it has a corporate office building off Appling Road. The place just FEELS like a corporation, not a place of higher learning as I’m used to it.

Then there was the tour of the building that they gave me. They showed me the instructors’ office area, and it had cubicles almost exactly like the ones at my current job. Even less privacy, actually. I HATE cubicles. To be effective, to think well, I need to be able to walk around, even if it means pacing back and forth in a small office. Can’t say I loved everything about the U of M but I did have my own office there – and I hung a disco ball from the ceiling to make it my own. I shone a spolight on it, turned off the lights, and left it on all day. My students would come by to see the disco ball. And while there, they’d ask questions about their homework.

And all of the instructors were wearing ties. I am absolutely, positively NOT effective in a tie. It’s just not my personality. I can understand where they’re coming from, that dressing professionally and wearing a tie sets you up as the authority figure in the classroom. But when I taught at the U of M, I never had any trouble establishing myself as an authority figure, and my dress there was about as far from a tie as you can get. To be at my best as a teacher, I have to be comfortable – I have to be ME. And I can’t do that in a tie.

But the biggest deciding factor was that I’d be required to teach evening classes. That would put an end to the extracurricular activities that I enjoy so much downtown. Pint Night at the Saucer, rooftop parties on the Peabody. Just hanging out drinking wine with my neighbors in No. 10 Main after work. And it would curb my involvement in Mpact. I’ve really enjoyed my work with the Membership Committee this year: being a presenter at the Mpact 101 information sessions for new members, getting to know people at the Mvite new-member outings. And I’m also on the Social pillar, and I’m in my second year on the Board. I enjoy the life I lead, and this job would require me to give too much of it up.

So, I’m trusting my intuition. Later today I will e-mail the dean and thank him for the opportunity, but let him know I’m not interested.

Perhaps one day I’ll again get to teach in an environment where I can be myself and yet make a decent amount of money at the same time. Until then, guess I continue on as a programmer.