Commentary

Those Who Can, Teach

It has been well over six weeks since my university’s spring semester ended and I’m still mentally exhausted. 

For someone who spends the majority of his day dealing with demanding clients and vibrant creative employees, managing the after effects of teaching two marketing classes during a 14 week college semester should be a snap. However, it hasn’t been and I find myself constantly reflecting on the intensity of the experience in and out of the classroom. 

The spring semester has a finality to it that the fall doesn’t. It ends with graduation and bidding farewell to students sometimes for good. After decades in the advertising business, you’d think I would blithely adjust to a college campus’s abrupt endings and transient, short-lived relationships.  Turns out, I really can’t when it comes to parting ways with students I’ve spent time with in the classroom. It’s much harder to say goodbye and the recovery period is lengthier than with typical business relationships. 

As a late arrival to teaching and coming from the business world, my classroom style tends to be relational. I learn as much as possible about each student and I can personalize questions to enhance class discussions if I know where they are from, what’s their major, where they interned last summer, or if they have a job after graduation. For example, I will call on someone going to work at Macy’s when there is an issue related to retail or someone who interned at AT&T on subjects involving telecom. Their intimate knowledge of an industry adds credibility to the discussion. 

Carrying around 60+ personal stories in my head all semester is challenging. But, the knowledge allows me to add more to the educational experience for students I get to know. I can respond in meaningful ways to their constant stream of emails about class materials, tests, or advice about individual job searches. When it’s appropriate, I can attach recent articles on subjects that I know would be of particular interest. 

In some ways, I treat my students like clients—always trying to anticipate their needs and always trying to give them a bit more than they ask for. It wears me down as the semester progresses, but it’s a joyful burden that results in much richer interactions. My former students become as important a part of my Rolodex as clients I have known for decades. 

Unfortunately, after the semester ends, I can’t just off load 60-plus personal stories to a digital cloud somewhere. These stories linger with me for a long time. I feel like I’ve had a small influence in my students’ lives and they in mine. Maybe those experiences are just going be a part of us for a long time to come. 

A college campus is so stimulating and electric that no matter what teaching style an instructor uses, he or she will be left exhausted when the semester is over. But, that exhaustion doesn’t last long for many college professors. They are adrenalin addicts who can’t stand the idea of a peaceful moment. In fact, the real pros are gone almost as quickly as their students. They are off to far away places working on equally stimulating projects and assignments. 

Higher education is more a reflection of American business than might be expected.  Both worlds reside in cultures where everything is fluid and rapidly evolving. They differ in that one operates in increments of fast paced semesters and is measured by U.S. News rankings while the other moves erratically through a calendar year evaluated by quarterly earnings reports. 

Neither world tolerates passivity well. Both are populated and run by high energy, wired individuals who are capable of keeping up with all of the action. But, for the few that can’t maintain the pace and get left behind, here are a few summer activities that can reduce the pain of ruminating about semesters past: 

Begin training for an October marathon. Marathon training contains all the same elements of an academic semester. It starts slow, focuses on hard work, builds over time, and ends with a final test that makes exam week look tame. Start in May and you’ll be ready for 26.2 miles by October. 

Spend more time on the golf course. Golf has many of the same addictive qualities as life on a college campus. One good shot a round keeps you coming back for more. Plus golf is harder to master than college physics. It’s sure to keep you busy all summer long. 

Join a political campaign. Campaigns are the home of the real adrenaline elite. The pace is always in a panic. Like a college semester, there is a beginning, middle, and an end to a campaign. Makes the pace of college life look tame. 

Teach summer school. There is nothing to be ashamed of in admitting the classroom is where you belong year round. 

Even though I considered them all, my choice was none of the above. The last thing I needed after the spring semester was another adrenalin rush.  Instead, I decided to use the summer months to call, meet, text, email, have lunch with, and genuinely work at strengthening bonds with my clients and former students. While semesters and fiscal quarters will always speed by, one thing that endures is the potency of relationships with those that you shared meaningful times in your life.

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3 comments about "Those Who Can, Teach".
  1. Rachel Goldstein from Fundraising , June 24, 2014 at 8:49 a.m.
    Interesting and insightful perspective to sum up the semester schedule as a massive adrenaline rush. I love your summer activities list!
  2. Hart Weichselbaum from the planning practice , June 24, 2014 at 9:30 a.m.
    "Higher education is more a reflection of American business than might be expected. Both worlds reside in cultures where everything is fluid and rapidly evolving." Okay. But does the comparison end there? Why do I hear that college isn't preparing young people for the world of business?
  3. Scott Fasser from Hacker Agency , June 30, 2014 at 11:21 a.m.
    Thank you for the insight. I'm teaching my first full semester course on Marketing Analytics this fall for the University of Washington and anxious about giving the students a great experience.