The respiratory care educational community has become increasingly concerned in recent years about the aging of the workforce. As more and more program directors and faculty members retire, the need for new educators to train the next generation of therapists is growing ever more critical.
Many educators today started out as clinicians and most people agree the educators of tomorrow will come from the ranks of clinicians as well. How can you tell if the teacher’s life might be right for you?
Nancy Colletti, PhD, RRT, CPFT, RT program director at the University of Cincinnati in Cincinnati, OH, and Randy De Kler, MS, RRT, who serves on the faculty of the RT program at Nova Southeastern University in Palm Beach, FL, offer some great advice.
Nancy Colletti’s top five things to consider before taking the plunge into RT education —
- Were you planning to have your summers off? You most likely will not have your summers off. Higher education teaching in the respiratory care profession is a year-round continuous process. Many people who begin teaching at the college/university level assume they will have their summers off; this is not the case even for those who are lucky to find a position that is a nine-month contract. Courses always need to be assessed and revised with feedback from students, advisory committees, medical director, peers, etc. Just when you think you have the “perfect course” a new piece of equipment, theory, procedure, medication, etc., comes out which requires a change in one (or more) of your courses.
- How flexible are you with your work/personal schedules? Most college/university educators are not hourly employees, so they are able to flex the hours of their workday. To be an effective educator at the college/university level, you will need to work beyond the typical work week (9 a.m. – 5 p.m., M-F). In order to meet the needs of our diverse student population, whether teaching online or face-to-face, educators have to be willing and able to adjust schedules to meet with students outside of typical office hours. I do not have the exact statistics, however, many of our students enrolled in respiratory care education programs are not the stereotypical college student (i.e., 18-24 years old, single, with parents to offer financial/emotional/social support).
- How much time does it take to prepare, instruct, and assess student learning? Although I have been teaching for over 30 years now, it always seems to take me longer than I planned to prepare courses. It is similar to the home improvement project that is supposed to be done in one weekend . . . two months later you actually finish it! In general, it is wise to plan at least eight hours of work (researching, reading, writing assignments/presentations, grading) per week for each three-semester credit hour of didactic courses. If you are teaching a lab course, this time commitment will be more since you have to set up equipment and ensure it is working properly before the lab, and often need to break it down, clean it, and put it away afterward.
- Are you a life-long learner? You need to embrace your commitment to life-long learning. In order to be sure our students are learning what they need to be successful respiratory care providers, we as educators need to keep up with the new evidence to support the topics/procedures we are teaching. If you are not teaching at a research university, you will need to keep yourself connected to those who are researching and sharing their results. As an educator, you will find yourself attending more professional conferences and reading more journals on a regular basis.
- How quickly can you pick up on nonverbal cues from others? You will need to read and assess students’ responses to learning activities quickly. Be prepared to adapt, adjust, and a revise on the fly once you realize the perfect lesson you created is not working.
Randy De Kler’s top five things to consider before taking the plunge into RT education —
- The workload for a classroom, laboratory, or clinical instructor is quite large. Typically, you spend about 4-5 hours on preparation for every hour of instruction. Deadlines and unexpected obstacles can be problematic as well (an example I have experienced is having classes being unexpectedly canceled for up to three weeks as a result of hurricanes).
- It is vital to remain current in your discipline. This requires substantial reading and communication with colleagues.
- A successful educator must be an exemplary communicator (verbal, nonverbal, written). At a minimum, narrative student evaluation and professional communication will be required, so proficiency with written communication will be essential. This means practice and colleague input if the new educator is not already an experienced writer.
- The educator is the students’ first and most compelling example of how professional respiratory therapists comport themselves. They are cliché, but the following maxims apply:
- Walk the walk.
- Keep the faith.
- Model desired behaviors.
- Compassion and empathy. The educator’s goal is the production of competent practitioners. However, how that is accomplished can be done in many different ways. Remember what it was like to be a student with enormous study requirements, families, bills to pay, non-native English speaking, or racial and gender inequalities, to name but a few of the potential obstacles. I am not suggesting that educators place these obstacles before students, but they are experienced by students on a regular basis. Don’t “dumb-down” the information or make the program inappropriately easy. Rather, give the students your encouragement and time as they pursue our cherished, but rigorous, discipline.