PR education – here’s what I’ve learned

Well, classes resume today at Kent State. I expect I’ll share some of my thoughts and experiences with you as the semester goes on. So I wanted to give you a little background.

First, I started at Kent State as a student in 1967. Then after graduating in 1970 (and spending years at night getting my master’s degree in 1979) I spent 30 some years in business. Then I had the opportunity to come back to Kent in 2003, teaching full time in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and working with students in a really unique student-run PR agency, Flash Communications.

The last five years have been a delight. I’m part of – OK, here comes an unapologetic plug – what I believe is one of the best public relations programs in the country. My public relations colleagues and friends, Bill Sledzik, Michele Ewing and Jeanette Drake, combine extensive professional background with the ability to teach. I’m not so sure that everyone in the academy can say that. And they share a very personal desire to help our students succeed. And most do.

Kent State offers a professional public relations program, part of a strong journalism sequence that is housed in a newly opened state-of-the-art facility, Franklin Hall. And for our public relations students we are working hard to prepare them for careers by focusing on writing skills, traditional public relations strategy and tactics and ethical conduct, and a growing emphasis on digital media and online communication. Bill Sledzik in his ToughSledding blog made this part easy for me by writing about the Public Relations Online course.

Here’s where I am going with all this. Every year during the holidays I see friends and former business associates who ask if I am still teaching at Kent State. When I say yes, they reply: “When I retire I’m thinking about teaching.” Well, uhh, OK. For anyone actually thinking about entering the classroom from the business world, particularly at the end of a career and not the beginning, here’s what I’ve learned.

  • You can’t fake it. You have to know the subject – and you have to be prepared each and every class. The stories of your great successes and career challenges don’t go very far. Trust me. And if you are going to do it right, teaching really is work. If you are thinking about retiring on the job, this isn’t the right place.
  • You better be prepared to give students honest feedback. They deserve that. Grades are important to them. And that’s one way they learn. Most managers conduct performance reviews, ready or not. Unfortunately, many aren’t very good at it. And it helps here if you view yourself as a mentor not as a boss. Not everyone gets that. There is a difference.
  • You’re pretty much on your own, both in the classroom and with administrative support. If you are used to having things done for you – scheduling meetings, filing, completing expense reports, etc. – well forget it. A few tips: learn how to use a copying machine and learn to type much better than I can. You’ll soon learn that the telephone is obsolete, but e-mail comes at you day, night and weekends.
  • And be prepared for the fact that not all students share your passion for the subject matter in: fill in the blank here.

But also be prepared for those moments when you see students learn a new skill, gain enthusiasm for something that really is important and then move on to begin a successful career. Yeah, maybe you did help a little bit. Sometimes you get nice notes. Sometimes a former student adds you as a friend on Facebook – and you know that you really are friends and professional associates. That probably doesn’t happen all that often in the business world.

Looking forward to another semester.


8 responses to “PR education – here’s what I’ve learned

  1. Well said, Rob. I’m going back to my post at ToughSledding and inserting a link to this one. It’ll be for all my friends thinking of “retiring” to the academy.

  2. Pingback: I need your help this semester, so chime in «

  3. I think folks assume because they know stuff, they can teach it. But teaching–as you know–is an art and doing it well, despite all of the ways it can be a drag, is extremely rewarding and valuable, i think. Above all, it has to be about listening. My best teaching happened in a juvenile prison where the kids needed it and wanted it most. But even in front of a tough audience (folks who don’t want to learn), it can be thrilling. It sounds like you really enjoy teaching and sharing your knowledge.

  4. Kelly,

    You’re right. I do enjoy teaching. But you have to work at it. And you do have to listen. Many teachers should talk less and listen more.


  5. Rob-

    Can I add one point to your excellent list? Have compassion.

    My second semester teaching, I was going over a character sketch a student had written about her troubled brother. It was early in the semester, and she had bared her soul about her brother. Clod that I am, I did not mention that. Instead the first two minutes or so, I went down a list of grammar and puncutation errors that needed corrected.

    When I finally looked up at her, tears were streaming down her face. I apologized profusely, and she graciously accepted. But I was disturbed about my callousness. I always remind myself that the students sitting in those seats are human beings first and college students second.

  6. Tim,

    Thanks for your excellent comment. Students want to succeed, but at times they are unsure of themselves and their talents. Many times those of us in the classroom overlook that. Compassion should be at the top of the list.


  7. Rob, I agree with your comment of “Many teachers should talk less and listen more.” And because you are an educator, you can offer insight to a burning question of mine: What’s with the power trips? I realize we’re students and professors have the all the big, bad degrees but why do some make it a priority to make us feel two inches tall? What’s in the joy of scaring students?

  8. Brittany,

    Thanks for your comment. Personally, I don’t think it is right for professors to “scare” students. As a teacher, I believe it is my job to help you succeed — recognizing that you (and I mean students in general) have to make a sincere effort. I don’t get any pleasure in giving a student a bad grade. When that happens — if the student has attended class and tried — then I believe that I have failed. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen often. I’ll probably get into some trouble for saying this, but what the heck. Some professors spend too much time in the academy. They need to get out in the real world, work with adults (and I view students in this category), and recognize that they really don’t know everything.



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