Transition from School Leader to Professor:
Not Our World!
Retired superintendents have many “second career” options other than returning to the fray as interim school leaders. A wonderful choice is to continue in education as a professor. When considering this path I received some very valuable advice and am happy to pass it along.
If you are considering post-retirement work as a professor get a taste of it as an adjunct professor. While the pay is dismal, the experience isn’t and it can help you decide if it is a role you would enjoy and might pursue.
Schools of Education have lots of faculty, who are theorists and curriculum experts and researchers. There may however be needs for adjuncts, who can teach practical things such as School Law, School Finance, Special Education, Technology, Data-Driven Decision-Making, and Supervision. You know the practical things well and would be able to meet the need, while you explore post-secondary teaching. These days there is a wide range of delivery/schedule options including face-to-face courses, hybrid courses, accelerated courses, weekend courses, on-line courses, etc. It is likely that you could find a course schedule and format that could work into your schedule.
It is also important to note that were you to apply for a full-time professor position one day, almost all job postings ask for or prefer prior college-level teaching experience.
Education is changing all of the time and the genesis for change is not necessarily on campus. Not long ago New Jersey schools converted to district adopted instructional supervision models/rubrics and data-driven systems. School leaders lead the charge, trained administrators and teachers and became experts. Colleges lagged far behind. New hires, who were there and who knew their stuff were prized. Even NJASA discovered expertise gaps in the corps of Superintendent Mentors at the time.
Another example is the current transition to technologically driven instruction, which has been coming but now has taken off. Few college level faculty are expert in application of instructional technology and instruction methods used on campus are not even close when it comes to actually modeling and using the newest tools. You are implementing the latest innovations. Know all about them. If you can make it work in your district you can surely help aspiring teachers and administrators acquire the understandings and experiences they will need.
Understanding and Respecting Their World
After encouraging you to rely on your “real world” experience, which I assure you is very much needed on campus, I now must warn you that it might not be as highly valued as you might think. Probably the best piece of advice I received was to prepare to leave our world and understand theirs. I was advised to avoid our, “I am in the real world” bias.
You will first encounter this in the hiring process. Read the job posting for the clues. Faculty committees run the initial phases of hiring. The Faculty Search Committee may include some professors, who share school leader expertise but may have others without it, including some, who are not even Education professors. Some may look at us as pragmatics but not real academics. The Search Committee will be looking for four things: evidence of teaching excellence, expertise in an academic area, which meets the needs in a department, how you might serve the Department or University and your “research agenda.”
Teaching excellence as an adjunct was discussed above. You might also include professional presentations, teaching your faculty members, teaching in induction programs, teaching while you were in graduate school, etc. Understand how to structure a face-to-face, 15-week (45 hour) course and then how you might modify it for a hybrid format or on-line presentation.
Know what they need. They might need an expert in some aspect of the curriculum. (See expert, above.) However they might well need a replacement or someone to teach in a particular program or course sequence. Did someone retire or leave the department? What did they teach? If you’ve connected to an on campus contact and can learn what is needed you may have an edge.
All faculty are expected to serve on committees, task forces, etc. Be ready to offer some concrete thoughts on where you might be able to make a service contribution. Curriculum Development Committees are always safe bets.
The area you may be least prepared to enthusiastically discuss is your research interest. Remember it isn’t necessary that you have done the research, but that you are interested and excited about an area of research and are very knowledgeable about it. Perhaps build on your masters or doctoral level work. Perhaps be ready to discuss a current school problem needing attention and research focus. There are non-tenure track positions, which do not require research but they are rare. Professors are expected to complete research and some publishing in order to achieve tenure and promotion. Embrace it!
Since retiring as a Superintendent, I have enjoyed a second career as a full-time professor in the School of Education at Georgian Court University. I’ve worked with many great colleagues, several of whom have also been retired school leaders. I hope you will join us.