Why I teach
Here we are. Another fall semester and it’s back to school for a few Hodgers – not as students but as instructors at area universities. Greg, Kelsey and I have got our lesson plans ready to go.
After a lifetime of never wanting to be a teacher, I got the teaching bug after a few guest speaking opportunities at VCU and Longwood. Likely because I found a career that I love, I am excited to show others where the profession can take you in your career. After each guest teaching gig, I left the classroom inspired and energized by the students’ questions as well as their perceptions and misperceptions of PR. To be honest, it was the misperceptions that really got me thinking about the importance of defining the profession and showing students what to expect from a career in public relations. There’s so much more to the profession than what is portrayed by characters in books, movies and popular TV series. What never seems to make it to the screen is the critical nature of writing, ethics, anticipation and collaboration, not to mention the importance of remaining level-headed. That’s the stuff that makes a great PR professional.
I’ve spent my entire career on the agency side, which means that I’ve had the opportunity to work for clients in a variety of industries – from pharma and manufacturing, higher education and energy, to retail, nonprofits and financial services, to name a few. Not all of them are glamorous to say the least (ask me about the container shipping industry some time), but the work is often challenging if not rewarding. And because the work is important to my clients, it’s important to me. And it’s unpredictable. You’d better be ready for whatever is thrown your way on any given day.
At VCU, I teach “Professionalism in PR.” It’s a required course for PR majors focusing on how to prepare for life beyond the classroom. It’s a course that didn’t exist years ago and is part of a higher education trend to offer “real talk” type of classes. My goal is to teach the stuff that no one teaches them. I focus on talking with the student about how to act in a meeting, the importance of being flexible, how to manage stress, how to handle conflict in the office, when to stand your ground, how to make the most of virtual work environments, how to handle ethical dilemmas and how to find a way to get behind work that might seem mundane or boring. It’s the kind of information in all of its nuance that can separate the exceptional worker from the rest.
So, to answer my own headline, I teach for a number of reasons:
- To get students excited and prepared for the realities of a career in PR
- To protect and promote the profession – one misperception at a time
- To stay spry and sharp. My students teach me a lot, too. (I know, I know. Cue the eye roll, but it’s true!)
Each semester has taught me something new about how to connect with my future PR peers. This will never be a class that stays stagnate. As the profession and technology changes, so will the curriculum.
Hey fellow PR folks, what is some wisdom you’d like to share with these soon-to-be grads?