Academia vs. the “real world”

When I went college at the University of North Dakota in the early ’80s, I majored in business focusing in marketing and finance. I remember an investments professor I had started out the first day of the semester telling us we’d all be able to make a fortune in the stock market when we we finished his class. He was in his late twenties and had gone straight from undergraduate to get his masters and PhD. And now he was teaching at UND.

Fast forward two years. I was in my last semester and was doing mortgage brokering on the side. I heard that this investment professor, was now working at a local bank in town  – so I though I’d talk to him about an apartment complex deal I was working on.

Nothing materialized however – not because my  deal was bad though. My old teacher wasn’t allowed to work real estate mortgages … only car loans. So much for making a fortune in the stock market. I guess what was good for the gander did apply for the goose.

I forgot about this untill I read an article yesterday: When Is It Profitable to Reward One’s Own Customers? It got me fuming. Not the article, though – the article was good. But why had to be written in the first place.

"Do as I say ... not what I didn't do"

Article refutes the erroneous age-old business school premise that getting new customers is better than nurturing old ones. Common sense and experience (mine included) says the just the opposite, in fact it’s the basis of my firm. Any business person knows of the 80/20 rule. 80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers. This rule pretty much applies universally, whether your business is a bar or a hardware store. In addition, it can cost as much as ten times more to generate business from new sources than cultivating it from current ones.

But this post isn’t about marketing or even business – it’s about academia and its relationship to the “real world.”

I know this is going to piss off a lot people off … so be it! Unless you’ve done it – you have no business teaching it. This goes for mainly for college professors. And even more so for business professors. Books are supplements not the “be all end all.” They’re places where you can grab bits and pieces to augment “real world” experiences. With their experiences, a teacher knows what to pull out and emphasize – and what skip by. With “real world” experiences to reference, the techniques laid out in the books (often archaic) can be brought into the present and made relevant. The key word here is RELEVANT. With relevancy comes engagement. And with engagement comes learning. And isn’t that the whole purpose?

It’s been well documented that learning is best achieved with stories. Our brains connect with each other best via stories rather than facts and random ideas. While a book may have examples, it takes experiences to breathe relevancy into them.

This also applies to high school teachers. These are the people who are to help prepare our children for the real world, yet theirs may have consisted primarily only with teenagers. This is by no means a bad thing … but social interaction diversity is better. The more varied exposure a teacher has in the real world, the more likely they are to connect with a wider, more diverse, audience of their students.

Lately I’ve been participating in several education discussion groups on LinkedIn as well as writing education posts here. Way too often I see comments by professors and teachers start with, “I’ve been a teacher for 30 years.” What does that mean? All it means to me, is that you’ve been in the same job for 30 years and probably no others. How much better teacher is one having 30 years experience rather than 20 or even 10? I don’t know – maybe you do. I’d much rather have a teacher, for my daughter that’s worked outside of academia for 10 years and then became a teacher. But’s that’s just me.

I’m not really sure why I wrote this today other than vent. Maybe it’s to get parents to look seriously at community college for their kids in the first couple of years of school. Many community college teachers have a real world experience. In fact, many are working day jobs and teaching at night … bringing that “real world” experience into the classroom. Or maybe it’s just to get people realizing that no matter what college, or what high school in what great district your child goes to – it’s the individual teachers and their life experiences that matter.

But it’s kind of hard to share your experiences … when you haven’t had any!


Follow me on Twitter at @clayforsberg


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3 thoughts on “Academia vs. the “real world”

  1. Great post, Clay! You may believe you are venting, but I hear you and empathize. To say you have been teaching for 30 years is not too different than saying “I got 750 on my math SAT. What it means is that your measurable outcome on that test, in that career, is what it is. And I say, so your point is… Do you follow that with how successful you have been teaching students? Have you implemented new ideas and programs and made your students career ready for today’s world? My questions are endless.

    I have a variety of experiences, some as a musician and some as a teacher in various realms. I have a high level of content education and accomplishment, and I have even recently had administrators say to me, “I found some one else with REAL teaching experience.” What is it exactly that I have–fake teaching experience? My life experience and many years of various educational endeavors don’t count?

    What we need in education are people who do care and have considerable content knowledge and life experience in their discipline to teach, at both the secondary and college level. Their perspective is different and may not fit the mold but it is very valuable to students. I know this because I have been in the traditional classroom and have the feedback of students.

    So, now you won’t be alone in riling up readers. It sounds to me like saying you have 30 years of teaching experience means you have done your time. Because you have done it for that long may mean you know something more than someone else, but it may simply mean you have done it for 30 years. Tell me what you have contributed in that 30 years to improve the lives of students.

  2. Clay, you have some very good thoughts here. I hope you still remember that being a good teacher is not only about the amount of the subject matter expertise and real-life experiences. What is also needed for a teacher to effectively facilitate students’ learning is solid understanding about how learning happens tied together with strong pedagogical or andragogical skills.

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