When I was in college, back in the 1960’s, I spent lots of time trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. I wanted to be an architect or a mining engineer or a treasure hunter, depending on the mood of the day.
Then I stumbled onto a brand new profession, called computer programming. It sounded technical, mysterious and lucrative. I decided to give it a try.
It was a great way to make a living and lasted about 35 years.
Then at the turn of the century, known as Y2K in the computer world, my career as a computer programmer was coming to a grinding halt.
What once had been technical had become mundane. Programming was no longer mysterious or lucrative as thousands of programmers had flooded the job market and, after Y2K, many of the programming jobs were outsourced overseas.
A thriving profession had become a dead end. So once again, I spent lots of time trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life.
In the spring of 2001, my life took an unexpected left turn.
Ozarka College in Melbourne, Arkansas, was looking for a person to teach computer courses.
Such person was required to have a master’s degree in the discipline and some related experience.
Since I appeared to be such a person, this caught my interest.
I also had a B.S. (business) and an M.S. (management information systems), plus plenty of related experience, thus I appeared to be qualified for the job.
Even though I had no teaching experience, except for tutoring junior programmers, I applied for the position.
The job interview went well. I talked to the Vice President of Academic Affairs and the head of the business technology department, detailing my work history. They were two of the nicest people I’d ever met.
My first reaction was to check to make sure I still had my wallet. Having been a city slicker most of my life, my instincts around overly nice people are that they want to sell you something or swindle you out of something, or both.
For whatever reason, I was offered the job and started in the fall 2001 semester with one night class called CIS1303 – Computer Information Systems.
I gave it my best shot, the students appeared to learn things, and no one got hurt.
I went on to be an adjunct instructor at Ozarka College for the next six years, teaching a couple of differing night classes each semester, at facilities in Melbourne and Ash Flat. Every desk had a computer, tied into the main system at the Melbourne campus.
Being a teacher had been one of the most wonderful experiences in my life.
“Share your knowledge -- it's a way to achieve immortality.” 14th Dalai Lama
First of all, it fit my lifestyle. I taught in the evenings (or late afternoons), which accommodated my night owl existence. Plus, I only taught a few nights per week, which fit my ambition level at the time of taking life easy.
While being a teacher is not the road to riches, it kept the lights burning.
Teachers are a special breed. When I worked in the corporate world, particularly in larger companies, being adept at office politics was often more important than doing a good job. Workers tried to please management by making themselves look good and making others look bad. In order to survive in such an atmosphere, you had to join the action or be trampled in the process.
However, teachers generally tend to be cooperative and helpful. They’re more focused on what’s best for the students than what’s best for themselves. It may be different in larger colleges, but everyone at Ozarka College was so nice that I was constantly checking to make sure I still had my wallet.
The greatest benefit of being a teacher was the satisfaction that came from helping others gain knowledge.
Computer skills have become a basic necessity in much of everyday life these days.
The more I was able to help students improve their skills, the better I felt about myself and my new profession. There’s no greater reward than the sense of fulfillment that comes at the end of a semester when my students confidently scatter into the real world.
Computer students generally came in two varieties -- youngsters not far out of high school who had considerable computer skills and older people who wanted to learn about computers so they could make use of their home PCs.
One thing I learned along the way is that a teacher never stops learning.
For example, there is a big difference between young whippersnappers (younger generations) and old codgers (older generations).
One semester at the Melbourne facility, there were 18 students in my Microprocessor Applications class. Four of them were older students, in their 40s and 50s. These four students had impeccable attendance records and the four highest overall grades, based on computer projects and tests. The rest of the students were a year or two out of high school. With few exceptions, they had spotty attendance and didn't seem to put forth an effort equal to their older counterparts.
By the way, everyone in that particular class was a female student, thus these differences had nothing to do with gender.
One semester at the Ash Flat facility, I had 11 students in my Introduction to Computers class. There were five older students, ages 30 to 75, and six students fresh out of high school. Once again, the five older students had good attendance records and the five highest overall grades, even though they knew less about computers at the outset than the youngsters.
This isn't exactly a scientific survey, but from my point of view old codgers seem to have a strong ethic to succeed while young whippersnappers have a strong yearning to slide through life with the greatest of ease.
Having interviewed and hired people in the past as the Lead Programmer and General Manager of a Computer Software Company, it's been my experience that the best workers are the ones who actually show up and put forth an effort once they get there.
A strong work ethic and eager attitude (beyond the false persona of the interview process) were always major requirements when I hired people.
Having finished college is also a must. An employer is more willing to hire someone who has demonstrated they can finish what they started rather than some hotshot who quits in the middle.
Being smart is secondary to a good work ethic.
And being a class clown only helps if you want to become a comic or a writer.
There seems to be a generation gap throughout society these days. Many young people don't want to take responsibility for their own future. It's as though they expect some outside force, such as an omnipresent government, to control their world so they can just float through life without encountering too many obstacles or making too many decisions.
In a recent poll of 100,000 high school students, only 51% believe newspapers should be allowed to publish content without government approval and 20% feel people should not be allowed to express unpopular views.
Apparently, fascism is a desirable concept among an alarmingly large percentage of the youth of America.
Clearly, there are real differences between generations.
Young whippersnappers worry about the driver's test – old codgers worry about the vision test.
Old codgers remember where they were when JFK was assassinated – young whippersnappers remember where they were when INVASION OF THE ZOMBIES movie came out.
Young whippersnappers arrange for their next KEG – old codgers arrange for their next EKG.
Old codgers move to Arizona because it's warm -- young whippersnappers move to Arizona because it's cool.
Young whippersnappers often have long hair – old codgers often long for hair.
Old codgers fought wars for freedom of speech – young whippersnappers believe in freedom of speech as long as you get government approval first and don't say anything disagreeable.
If you want to get ahead in this world, show up and do the work.
If you want to goof off, move to San Francisco. I've been there a few times -- it didn't take very long to get past it, but I still have a little bit of goof-off in reserve.
If you believe in freedom, fight for it.
If you want to be a slave, empower those in charge to monitor everyone more closely and suppress unpopular thought, and perhaps build "re-education" centers for those who stray.
Government is dominated by those who yearn to control others. It becomes increasingly powerful by eroding liberty, requiring conformity and demanding obedience.
When you lose your individuality, you lose your soul.
Being a teacher is a lot like being rich -- it’s a wonderful way of life, just in a lower tax bracket.
Quote for the Day – "What a teacher is, is more important than what he teaches." Karl A. Menninger
Bret Burquest is the author of 12 books. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a few dogs and has fond memories of being a teacher.