Climbing the Stairs: Observations on a Teaching Career.

My office is on the first floor of the education building. I have spent 27 years in this building. Unless I have a meeting in another department, I rarely go upstairs. Recently, however, I started a daily routine of climbing the four sets of staircases in the building. Trying to slow the progression of osteoporosis in my right hip, I go up one set and down another three times as I make my way around the building. This physical activity has given me a chance to engage in some mental reflection. Here I will briefly share five observations on a career spent teaching in higher education with an eye toward encouraging newer faculty to achieve longevity in the profession.

1. Adaptability is key.

On the first day of stair climbing, I passed by the classroom where I taught my very first class as a newly “hooded” faculty member. As I looked in the room, a smile came across my face as I thought of those thirty graduate students—most of whom were older than I was. While I remained at the university, they went on to become school principals, district superintendents, and curriculum coordinators. Seeing this classroom now made me think about the changes in my teaching. The large chalkboard once mounted on the wall is long gone. Even though I always liked using chalk (and had a special stainless steel holder for it), other tools have definitely replaced the infamous dust producer. Technology has been the greatest change in my delivery of instruction. Yet no matter what the innovation or new requirement (e.g., reporting assessment data, using iPads in the classroom, etc.), maintaining flexibility and being open to alternative approaches will serve faculty well over time.

2. Become resourceful.

As I walked the hallways, I noticed the office directories at the main entrance to each department. So familiar, these are easily ignored. Actually looking at them each day reminded me that people are the most valuable resource available to us as faculty. Whose expertise complements ours? Whose interests are similar to ours? With whom can we bounce off ideas for teaching a new class preparation?

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