Being an online professor and teaching with an Attitude; Dealing with Duties Beyond the Classroom.
by George Stanley Reeley, Ph.D.
Little Do They Know
At last, I have reached the top pinnacle of Maslow’s Pyramid—I have self-actualized, and consequently I am living the good life in my dream career, performing the duties of an online professor while working from home. Can you feel my smile? Okay, with this being said, it was a pretty perilous climb (for me) up that pyramid. First, I earned my terminal degree, I guest lectured to build experience, I gave free seminars (for the same reason), I taught for years in live classrooms, both daytime and evening, and I was on the road--traveling many miles—often late at night to do this. After these dues were paid and I decided to become a full time adjunct online professor, I applied to over 300 online schools before being selected to teach with five—a 1.5% success ratio. That’s pretty good, so I understand—and I am not complaining. I love it, actually…but how many of you have heard from family and friends something like this? “It must be nice sitting on your rump all day in your PJs teaching school online--easy money, huh?” When I hear this—and I do, too often—I want to lunge for their throats (from my ergonomic chair) and choke them, but I don’t—rather, I smile and reply—“indeed, I am happy.”
Just the Facts, Mam’
It is a good job—I am happy, it’s a great career, and it can be lucrative. There are very few things I can think of more rewarding than teaching eager college students online, particularly enjoying my duties of an online professor from my mountain home vistas. However, it’s the word “easy” that I’d like to focus on in this piece. Online teachers work hard—and we are destined to be working even harder in the future as technology advances and both school administrators and students expect more—whatever “more’ might entail. While I realize that I am preaching to the choir, it seemed appropriate to share a few thoughts I have with you as we, together, forge ahead into our “real life” virtual reality.
Did you know that the student populations attending the plethora of online universities out there rose between 2% and 6% in 2015, while overall attendance at traditional ground universities experienced a decline? Take note that many campus based colleges and universities are offering more online classes, so this trend isn’t going away any time soon. The late economist Peter Drucker predicted that by 2025 that most on-ground universities with be untenable (due to tuition costs), and compared this paradigm with the rising cost of health care in the United States. We, as online teachers are in a pretty good spot right now—we know how the system works and how to teach using assorted online platforms; however, the “teaching” part seems to be taking a back seat due to the tons of “extra activities” we are obliged to perform as a result of our role as faculty members for online schools.
Duties, Stuff, and More Duties of an online professor
Again, I am not complaining, but consider that as a result of the popularity of online schools, their ambition to attract and retain serious students, along with their aspiration to be recognized by the best accrediting bodies and to sail through internal audits, school administrators along with faculty members have a lot of extra stuff to do. Okay, we have continuous training—whether it’s our annual compliance training or the school adds a new gadget (tool) into their platform and we must set aside time to learn how to use it in ordder to effectively perform the duties of an online professor—which is all fine. Atop this, add in monthly, quarterly, whenever, faculty meetings—whether with our chair or as an entire university—and often these are “town hall meetings” and interaction is expected and monitored—and interestingly they are scheduled at odd times of the day, or night—based on time zones. Add into this the “professional development” activities that we, as faculty must complete each cycle—and each activity depends on the university and expectations placed on them by their accrediting body. Further, many of our schools expect us to attend conferences, speak at conferences, belong to outside organizations affiliated with disciplines we teach and network with peers and colleagues—and of course all of these activities must be documented. Let’s not forget committee work we agreed to perform, and of course we advise and work with our school’s success counselors to help with the retention efforts when we have wayward students. Lastly, there is the perpetual updating of our own course shells so they will include the most current and useful information for our students—and we do all of this with aplomb. But wait, I left out something—when do we get to teach?
Let’s Not Lose Focus
Okay, now I am exhausted! I’ve completed all required administrative duties and responsibilities for each school—for the time being—and while this respite will be short lived, now I am expected to be energized, witty, engaging, knowledgeable, and in the mood to teach our students? Whew! I need coffee, or something stronger! Somehow they (students) were left off the to-do list, but for me—and perhaps you--to keep our desired and highly enviable job as an online instructor, everything must be done and done well. Accordingly, students rate our teaching performance at the end of the term, and their voice/opinion carries tremendous weight. Yet, somehow I thought they should come first and all of the other stuff would be on the periphery. The problem for me is keeping a good “attitude” while balancing my admin duties with my teaching. I feel overwhelmed most of the time and pretty much out of steam by the time I begin responding to discussion questions. I need to have a clear head and fewer distractions to be the teacher I want to be, and the one our students deserve, right? So—what to do?
A Few To-Dos
Here are ten things that I do to de-stress and keep a positive attitude for our students—and our sanity; and yes, it’s another “to do” list—but in no particular order of importance.
- Keep a calendar—write down legibly what you need to do each week. Don’t try to remember everything.
- Take frequent breaks during the day—get up and walk around your house or yard before you notice that your back or bottom hurts.
- Make sure that you set your office hours convenient for you.
- Call a family member or a friend who you haven’t spoken to for a while. No texting—that’s too much like the job.
- Get enough sleep each night.
- Watch mindless TV shows—and there are plenty of them.
- Don’t forget to eat—and when you do, snack on something healthy.
- Pet your pet—or your spouse/significant other. We all need affection.
- Get your hands dirty. Dig a hole outside, plant something, trim, mow, rake—anything to connect you with Mother Earth.
- Make sure that you don’t meld with your computer. Join the human race and don’t lose your social skills. Trust me, if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.
In closing, it’s important that we don’t lose sight as to why we became college professors in the first place. We all love to teach—but because it is a job, like most, there are tasks we all must perform beyond the teaching part that make it possible for our schools to grow and prosper—and it’s a privilege to be a contributor to their goals. However, we must place our students first--so we cannot be too tired, consumed, overwhelmed, or stressed when they call us or write to us because of the other duties we are in the midst of performing. When we take time for ourselves and find ways to chill out—such as those ten mentioned above, we will be better teachers, happier—healthier, and with the right attitude students will hear in our voice and read in our responses to them—because they deserve our best.
About the Author
George Stan Reeley, Ph.D.
While working 18 years in healthcare administration and project management for a major hospital system in Columbia, South Carolina, I would often be invited to guest lecture at the University of South Carolina for students in its MHA program—and soon the teaching bug bit. I returned to school (at age 50) and earned a PhD in Leadership and Organizational Change, and I have been teaching college professionally ever since—now going on 15 years. I was a full-time professor and the Associate Campus Dean at Strayer University in Greenville, South Carolina for eight years where I taught both graduate and undergraduate courses on campus and online—and quite successfully. In fact, I won two national teaching awards while at Strayer. Today, I teach online only with five different universities.
I love business, but also the arts—and in fact, my wife and I founded and served as board members for an award winning community theatre in West Columbia, S.C. I draw, paint, sculpt, and have acted on stage in scores of community theatre productions—even musicals. I am an active member of SHRM (Society for Human Resource Managers), a consultant to a number of boards--among them, “Us, Too”, a prostate cancer survivor organization founded by my father-in-law. Ten years ago, I relocated to western North Carolina, and together with my wife of 40 years, Mary Ann, we have two grown children (a son serving in the U.S. Navy), a daughter, and one grandson, Oz. I graduated from the University of South Carolina with a BA in Journalism (I won’t tell you when), and some years later I earned my MA at Webster University in St. Louis in Management--and lastly in 2006, I graduated from Walden University where I earned my doctorate.
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