Saturday, November 2, 2013

Being a Teacher

When I was in college, back in the 1960’s, I spent lots of time trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. I wanted to be an architect or a mining engineer or a treasure hunter, depending on the mood of the day. Then I stumbled onto a brand new profession, called computer programming. It sounded technical, mysterious and lucrative. I decided to give it a try.

It was a great way to make a living and lasted about 35 years.

Then at the turn of the century, known as Y2K in the computer world, my career as a computer programmer was coming to a grinding halt. What once had been technical had become mundane. Programming was no longer mysterious or lucrative as thousands of programmers had flooded the job market and, after Y2K, many of the programming jobs were outsourced overseas. A thriving profession had become a dead end. So once again, I spent lots of time trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life.

In the spring of 2001, my life took an unexpected left turn -- Ozarka College in Melbourne, Arkansas, was looking for a person to teach computer courses. Such person was required to have a master’s degree in the discipline and some related experience. Since I was indeed such a person, this caught my interest. I also had a B.S. (business) and an M.S. (management information systems), plus plenty of related experience, thus I appeared to be qualified for the job. Even though I had no teaching experience, except for tutoring junior programmers, I applied for the position.

The job interview went well. I talked to the Vice President of Academic Affairs and the head of the business technology department, detailing my work history. They were two of the nicest people I’d ever met. My first reaction was to check to make sure I still had my wallet. Having been a city slicker most of my life, my instincts around overly nice people are that they want to sell you something or swindle you out of something, or both.

For whatever reason, I was offered the job and started in the fall 2001 semester with one night class called CIS1303 – Computer Information Systems. I gave it my best shot, the students appeared to learn things, and no one got hurt.

I went on to be an adjunct instructor at Ozarka for the next six years, teaching a couple of differing night classes each semester.

Being a teacher had been one of the most wonderful experiences in my life. First of all, it fit my lifestyle. I taught in the evenings (or late afternoons), which accommodated my night owl existence. Plus, I only taught a few nights per week, which fit my ambition level at the time of taking life easy. While being a teacher is not the road to riches, it kept the lights burning.

Teachers are a special breed. When I worked in the corporate world, particularly in larger companies, being adept at office politics was often more important than doing a good job. Workers tried to please management by making themselves look good and making others look bad. In order to survive in such an atmosphere, you had to join the action or be trampled in the process.

However, teachers generally tend to be cooperative and helpful. They’re more focused on what’s best for the students than what’s best for themselves. It may be different in larger colleges, but everyone at Ozarka was so nice that I was constantly checking to make sure I still had my wallet.

The greatest benefit of being a teacher was the satisfaction that came from helping others gain knowledge. Computer skills have become a basic necessity in much of everyday life these days. The more I was able to help students improve their skills, the better I felt about myself and my new profession. There’s no greater reward than the sense of fulfillment that comes at the end of a semester when my students confidently scatter into the real world.

Being a teacher is a lot like being rich -- it’s a wonderful way of life, just in a lower tax bracket.

Quote for the Day -- “Share your knowledge. It is a way to achieve immortality.” 14th Dalai Lama

Bret Burquest is the author of 9 books. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a dog named Buddy Lee and occasionally has to get his nephew Jon to help him with the latest computer technology.

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