Just call me Tod. I’m serious. I’m a public relations and marketing professional, I’m not a professor. So, I’m not Professor Tod or Professor Meisner. I don’t have or want my doctorate, so I’m not Dr. Meisner. I’m also not Mr. Meisner. That’s reserved for my father, a high school teacher and coach for 35-plus years in Raymond, IL. I can’t live up to that name and won’t try. So yes, please just call me Tod. It’s perfectly OK and I’ve answered to it my whole life.
Now that I have that details of the way, I’d like to share some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned (so far) as a college professor. To rewind, last summer I was approached about teaching a section of “Style and Design in Public Relations Messages” at Auburn University. I had known Terri Knight, Lecturer and Interim Associate Director of Public Relations for Auburn’s School of Communication & Journalism, for a few years and she knew I was interested in being an adjunct if the timing was right.
The timing was right at the end of the spring semester last year when she knew she would need a third section for Style and Design in the fall. She pegged me as the perfect practitioner to fill this opening and we set up lunch appointment to make sure we were on the same page.
Work, Hard Work
I knew it would be a lot of work and a big time commitment. But, something in me knew I had to commit to this. Both of my parents were educators and I think deep down I realize that I may have missed my calling to be a teacher. This was my time to see if I was right and also step out of my comfort zone a little bit.
The most rewarding part for me personally from my time at Verge Pipe Media in Auburn was working with our young interns. I still felt young enough (or young enough at heart) that I was relatable, but could still impart on them lessons I've learned in my professional career to date. I wanted to be able to do this with more students, and I wanted to have some control over the curriculum I would be teaching. Luckily, Terri had the same ideas in mind as I did and we agreed I would teach the section for the fall semester.
As the 2017 fall semester winds down and I approach the end of my first stint as a teacher, I wanted to share some of my thoughts and experiences. It doesn’t matter if you’re a teacher, coach, or the CMO of your company. These are leadership lessons that can help you be the best version of yourself. Without further delay, here are the lessons I’ve learned (so far) as a college professor.
I Can Do This
Without a doubt, I know that I can teach at the college level now. Whatever self-doubt I may have had before is gone. While I won’t go so far as to say I nailed every lecture along the way, or had all the answers, I know now I can teach at the highest level. If I’m teaching on a topic that I’m both knowledgeable about and have a passion for, I can excel. Plus, I will only get better! I feel like I learned just as much as the students and that’s a good thing.
Teach As You’d Want To Be Taught
This nugget was told to me early and often as I sought out advice from many people on how to succeed. I had to think back about teachers and leaders that I liked (and disliked) and make a list of “do’s and don’ts.” As I’m learning in Kevin DeShazo’s CORE Leadership classes, you must know yourself to lead yourself. Or in this case, know your team to lead your team.
I tried to take that approach each class and present the material and use my knowledge in a way that I’d want it presented to me. Along the way, as I learned about the students, I was able to adjust my approach and present to them how they responded the best.
Higher Ed PR Curriculum Needs Updating
From recent interactions in the classroom and during my work for a higher education focused marketing agency, it has become clear there is a massive shortage in Inbound trained job candidates, especially those entering the workforce directly from college. This means we need to change the approach on how to teach marketing and PR in the classroom.
I’m not calling for the end of the traditional college experience, but I am calling for the inclusion of at least one Inbound Marketing class for all marketing and PR majors. We should be training our next wave of practitioners how to grow responsible website traffic, write buyer personas, create remarkable content and offers, etc. Even for PR majors! Times are changing and it will serve PR majors well to learn these skills while in college to add to their skillset.
Problem Solving Skills
This is something that took me by surprise as I neared the end of the semester. I sensed a change in students’ moods as they were juggling multiple deadlines and class projects. So I was glad that I had built in some work days for them to concentrate on their website project for the class. I then began to learn that their problem solving skills seemed to be missing on these days. I kid, I kid.
But, I know they possess these skills. When given the chance to work in class and ask me extra questions, it was apparent they wanted me to “tell them how to do it.” I had a lot of “this used to look like this and now it doesn’t” or “I’m trying to fix this and then I messed up this.” It was a lesson for me in showing them how to work through difficulties. How to write things down as they do them, so when they need repeated, you have a process handy. It was frustrating that their default was to take the easy way out and say “you do it,” but it was a teaching opportunity for me to help reinforce problem solving skills for them.
The Obvious May Not Be Obvious
At times, I found myself getting frustrated when students weren’t performing as I’d anticipated. Then I realized I probably hadn’t communicated the class expectations clearly. I’ve learned I need to spell things out pretty clearly and leave out any ambiguity. In a class where you create a lot of content, I wanted to give the students some creative freedom. But, that’s a double-edged sword because too much freedom for the students sent them into a paralysis where they wanted more direction from me. Lesson learned: Students are bright and capable but require clear expectations.
Students sometimes claim they are overworked (although the problem is often poor time management on their part). When class is cancelled, they rejoice. In that spirit, students may also look for places to exploit loopholes — like inconsistencies in a syllabus that could allow them to miss class or turn in a paper late without penalty. Those situations are tricky to handle. Two things helped me: setting a firm deadline for everything and outlining the consequences for missing it. Without such specificity, students may decide there are no penalties.
Ask Your Students
When in doubt, just ask your students. About halfway through the semester I decided to take a temperature check and see what they liked and what else they’d like to learn. To my delight, they offered up great lecture topics and also made other excellent suggestions. What a revelation! Why hadn’t I thought of this before? Why not harness their collective brainpower? Naturally, not every last detail of a course can be driven by students. But there are multiple areas in which students can become equal partners in the educational process.
Showing Up Is Half The Battle
I’ve written about this one in long form. But, I must reiterate it again. Showing up is half the battle. In life, for work and in higher education. I placed hard and firm deadlines on the students and told them that a lot would be expected of them. They would have to produce a lot and showing up would help.
Sound familiar? Probably kind of like every job you’ve ever had. For college professors reading this, if you are able, structure your class as close to a real job as possible. Impart they must show up, get their shit done, get it done well and soon they’ll be rewarded in time.
As I wrap this up, I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank those who helped me during this opening semester. If it wasn’t for Karen Freberg, Chris Yandle, Derrick Docket, my sisters Kelly Klopp and Kristin Seed, the aforementioned DeShazo and Knight and my amazing wife Megan, I’m not sure I could have survived. With their help and encouragement, I was able navigate the semester and bring a fresh perspective to the class that the students seemed to enjoy.
I hope to be asked to contribute to a section of this class again and
apply the lessons I’ve learned (so far) as a college professor. I’m a firm believer that one must continue to learn throughout one’s life and career. I say that because life never stops teaching, so you must always keep up. I look forward to teaching the next group of students and the opportunity to learn just as much from them as they do from me.