When Pursuing a Professorship, the Key Is Your Credentials


Many superintendents every year take advantage of early-retirement options offered by their state legislatures. Many leave education altogether, taking with them valuable experiences and knowledge that could be shared with graduate students preparing for school administrative careers. The opportunities are ripe.

In fact, a number of universities’ preparation programs for educational administrators today are operating without a full staff or with faculty members who are being asked--or sometimes begged--to teach one more year. My own research shows that college of education faculty members are, on average, nearly eight years older than was the case 25 years ago.

Even with large numbers of superintendents retiring, the expansion of programs, such as ours at Southeast Missouri State University, means colleges of education must rely heavily on adjunct professors to deliver anywhere from 25 to 40 percent of the coursework. While there are positive aspects to employing practitioners to teach part-time in our administrator preparation programs, we find it more desirable to have a larger percentage of courses taught by full-time professors.

A Welcoming Environment
Retiring superintendents often have little knowledge about how to make a move into higher education.

First, a word of encouragement. My research suggests that educational leadership professors who come to the university classroom with broad public school administrative experience are perceived by graduate students to be more effective in teaching courses in such areas as school law, finance, business management, personnel and leadership theory. The students appreciate instructors who have "walked the walk."

When thinking about a second career as an educational leadership professor, you need to remember that despite many changes in higher education in recent years, the life of the professor continues to be divided into three roles: teaching, research and service. While the emphasis placed on each of the three will vary from one institution to another, depending on the size and philosophy of the university or college, all are important.

Institutions tend to say publicly that teaching is the most highly valued. In reality, it is often research leading to scholarly publication that is deemed most significant to one’s career, especially in the tenure and promotion process. While service to the university and the profession are important (and may be the most enjoyable aspect of one’s work), it seldom produces career-enhancing rewards.

Still, to make a successful transition from the superintendency to an educational leadership professorship, one must put forth a good effort in all three areas. You should not be deterred by these expectations or by the fact you will face additional hoops to gain a faculty appointment.

Starting Points
If the idea of an educational leadership professorship is appealing, you must take two concurrent steps to take at the outset: Update your vita or resume and secure a copy of The Chronicle of Higher Education, a weekly publication that lists hundreds of university faculty and administrative vacancies in all fields. By reviewing the job notices, you will determine whether your current vita emphasizes what is being sought by the employers.

Generally, the skills and experiences preferred or required of faculty applicants are those things most superintendents already can claim, but these may not be strongly reflected in the format of your vita or resume. The vita of the superintendent and educational leadership professor have a similar look but reflect considerable differences.

Professional preparation and experience data are pertinent to both, but the sections on higher education experience and research will assume central importance in the quest for a professorship. Applicants should include not only their adjunct teaching activities but also any professional services or relationships offered in an advisory capacity to a university or a particular program. Task force service related to higher education also should be noted.

Your vita’s section on research should address three distinct areas: publications, presentations and grants. While it may seem at first that you have nothing to include under these headings, superintendents tend to write regularly and their work may be published in various school district publications. Don’t overlook anything you’ve created that now exists in the form of handbooks, curriculum guides and annual reports to the board and community. Of course, articles written for professional journals (such as The School Administrator), newsletters and even regular op-ed columns for a daily newspaper should be included.

Be sure you format this section of your vita (and others) according to the 4th edition of The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association.

The presentations area should receive careful attention because superintendents often deliver speeches at state and national conferences and before state boards and legislative hearings.

In the grants area, superintendents may have considerable activity, experience and strength. Do not underestimate the importance of this section. List every grant in which you were actively involved by title, source and the amount of the award. Again use APA format and be mindful that you may need to limit this section to grants received during the previous three to five years.

A Final Review
One other area of the vita should be carefully reviewed for possible modification: your professional references. It is wise to include some references from higher education, especially if you have been involved extensively as a teaching adjunct or have served on advisory boards for higher education entities.

When you have completed these preparations, you may want to ask a former superintendent colleague who now works as an educational leadership professor to review your revised vita to ensure it accurately reflects you, your experience and your potential.

B.C. DeSpain, a superintendent for 15 years, chairs the Department of Educational Administration and Counseling at Southeast Missouri State University, One University Plaza, Cape Girardeau, MO 63701-4799. E-mail: