My teaching experience goes back to the third grade — that is, when I was in the third grade. My teacher, Mrs. Draves, had to run to the principal’s office, and she put me in charge of the class.
As I read from the book Mrs. Draves left for me, I thought, “What a heavy experience this is.” And, even with the sea of faces in front of me, I immediately said to myself, “Wow, I really like this!”
For many years, though, my “sister” passion, communications, took priority. Sparked by an internship at my college’s communications office as an undergraduate, I launched a career in public relations. To me, the business offered exhilarating professional challenges, whether creating a strategic communication plan, writing copy for a brochure or supervising interns.
And yet, the bug to teach was still with me. Intrigued by the thought of combining my dual passions as a college professor of public relations, I earned a doctorate while continuing to pursue my public relations career. As assistant to the university president, Bill Greiner, I wrote his speeches and his columns in university publications, as well as supervised a staff of writers. While working with Greiner, though, I daydreamed about the professors and students we saw outside his window.
Greiner noticed, and we talked about his own desire to teach. As university president, he said what he missed most was teaching. In fact, I could see the twinkle in his eyes whenever he had a chance to meet with students, especially as a guest speaker. Finally, it was his example that convinced me to make a bold move, in my forties, to the other side of academia — full-time teaching. In 2002, I took the leap and haven’t looked back since.
Teaching is incredibly rewarding. Every semester, I face a new group of students eager to learn about public relations. Students want to know more about this exciting field and their chances for career advancement — and I rarely have a slacker in my classes. In my Intro to Public Relations, Public Relations Writing and Public Relations Campaigns courses, my students put the concepts they learn in the classroom to work on behalf of a real nonprofit client in the community. It’s a win-win situation for all.
Granted, professors put in long hours. I generally work 55–60 hours per week during the academic year and yes, 35–40 hours per week during the summer. I do have time to mow the lawn at 2 p.m., but then I spend all day Saturday and Sunday grading students’ papers. And there is a differential in pay scale; I earn less than I did in education and nonprofit public relations practice, and I’m sure the salary gap is wider for corporate public relations practitioners. However, the rewards come with my enormous personal satisfaction in my career change. In a spring semester course evaluation, one student wrote, “This class was awesome. I’m so glad that for most of my college career, I worked with actual clients. I learned so much and feel more prepared for life in my career path choice.”
America needs more seasoned public relations professionals to move into the classroom. Each year, hundreds of U.S. colleges and universities conduct searches for public relations faculty; however these searches often end in failure because the applicants don’t have the right blend of public relations experience, an advanced degree (a master’s degree is required, and often, a Ph.D. is preferred), some teaching experience (e.g., as a guest lecturer) and plans for scholarly research.
That’s where the PRSA Learning to Teach curriculum comes into play. It addresses many of the challenges confronting public relations practitioners who wish to make the transition to college professor. The curriculum offers essential information about successfully making the switch, including topics like institutional expectations for good teaching, research and service; types of colleges and universities (research universities, four-year colleges, community colleges); routes to a teaching job; salaries; educational requirements; sources of academic job advertisements; use of a resume versus a CV; and interview and hiring timeframes in academia. Additionally, Learning to Teach offers suggestions for new faculty on effectively planning coursework, organizing lectures, and developing challenging assignments, grading rubrics, and engaging syllabi and college catalogs as contracts with students.
This year, there will be a Learning to Teach session at the PRSA 2010 International Conference in Washington, D.C., which runs Oct. 16–19. The session, which is part of PRSA’s Your Society at Work offerings, takes place on Sunday, Oct. 17 from 11 a.m.–12 p.m., and is titled “More PR Students, Not Enough Faculty: Learn How to Translate Your PR Career to the Classroom.” Presenters include Bob “Pritch” Pritchard, APR, Fellow PRSA, lecturer and faculty adviser, Lindsey + Asp, University of Oklahoma; Jeanette Drake, Ph.D., APR, Fellow PRSA, chair and associate professor of communication, University of Findlay; and Susan B. Walton, APR, associate professor and associate chair, Department of Communications, Brigham Young University. The session is co-sponsored by the PRSA College of Fellows and Educational Affairs Committee.
For additional Learning to Teach curricula, check the PRSA District conference schedules. As chair of PRSA’s Northeast District and its 2008 District conference, I scheduled and moderated a Learning to Teach session at the conference. We had a full house!
If you’re contemplating a career change or have an interest in becoming a professor, be sure to attend a Learning to Teach session at a PRSA conference, or contact our Educators Academy leaders. And who knows, you may learn that it’s time for you to teach!
Deborah A. Silverman, Ph.D., APR, is a member of the PRSA Board of Directors and an assistant professor of communication and PRSSA faculty advisor at Buffalo State College.