Technology teachers have many responsibilities. They present information on electrical, engineering, computer, refrigeration, or automotive theory so students can understand how their specialized field works. Then they design and supervise laboratory activities that allow students to put theory into practice.
Labs must be carefully supervised to ensure student safety and to allow teachers' specific times to check on their students' progress before the students can continue with their work. Many proprietary schools develop special projects that students can use at the beginning of their lab experience, but teachers must create more advanced projects for students to work on and more challenging problems for them to solve. In proprietary schools, students tend to work at their own pace, so teachers must be willing to work with students who have very different ability levels.
Technology teachers work with students who need remedial help, and they spend a great deal of their time evaluating the students' progress. In many schools, students are graded on theory, lab work, attitude, initiative, punctuality, and attendance. Placing numerical or letter grades on some of these subjective areas is extremely challenging and time-consuming.
Teachers in technical schools do not follow a traditional school calendar. Vocational schools are usually open fifty to fifty-one weeks a year. Teachers generally are given a set vacation package and may earn more vacation days as they increase their seniority. In many technical schools, teachers have access to a predesigned curriculum that covers the minimum requirements for the class. Teachers are expected to add activities and lessons both for students who need extra help and for students who need more challenging material.
Working conditions in proprietary school are generally excellent. Many schools also provide outstanding health and benefit packages. When asked what they enjoy most about working in a proprietary school, teachers generally comment on how much they enjoy working with students who are focused on their careers. Teachers also point out that there are no discipline problems in proprietary schools and that teachers are not required to coach or sponsor co-curricular activities.
Many proprietary schools will provide their staff with extensive teacher training, but successful applicants must have a minimum of three to five years of on-the-job experience in their area of specialty before they will be considered for a teaching position. Successful candidates will also have some formal post secondary education at a college or university to complement their work experience. In order to be a successful teacher, candidates must have strong communication skills and great patience in dealing with students at all skill levels. Successful teachers are extremely organized and are not stressed by the challenges of running labs that involve many groups of students working on many different projects. In most proprietary schools, teachers are evaluated by their students; successful teachers are not threatened by this process and are willing to look at the information and adjust their teaching style as necessary.
Salaries in proprietary technical schools vary from school to school but tend to be competitive with public high schools. Beginning teachers in proprietary schools earn between $28,000 and $30,000 a year.
Opportunities in this field will continue to grow as proprietary schools expand to meet a growing school-age population and as currently employed teachers retire.
Linda Hjorth is a professor of clinical psychology at Devry Institute.
What made you interested in teaching at a proprietary school as opposed to a public institution?
I grew up in a family of engineers, so I suppose I have always been interested in that area. I was very interested in psychology, but I wanted to teach in a professional atmosphere. I wanted to work with students who genuinely wanted to learn.
What are some special challenges that teachers in proprietary schools face?
Because I teach classes in psychology, career development, and social issues in technology, students sometimes think that my classes are not important and that they shouldn't have to work as hard as I push them. I hear things like, "Why do I have to take a class that is harder than my technical classes?" I think that part of the problem is that my classes deal with abstract issues, and most of the students are at Devry because they love concrete, hands-on kinds of experiences.
How would you describe a typical day as a professor at Devry?
I spend a lot of time preparing lesson plans for my classes. I research and write lectures, meet with students, teach classes, and grade a tremendous number of papers.
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in teaching at a proprietary school?
The most important suggestion that I could make is to get teacher training experiences. People who move from industry to teaching sometimes have a very difficult transition from executive to professor. People who are interested in this field should be prepared for a twelve-month teaching year and a variety of classes during the year. New people in this field need to spend a great deal of time and effort working on the projects and activities that they want their students to do, and they need to develop careful instructions for their students, so students know what is expected of them. The students we see at Devry take their education very seriously, and they want to know what professors expect of them.
Educators who choose careers in proprietary schools are attracted by the opportunity to work with students who are focused on careers and who will work to attain the skills and knowledge that they need to succeed in their careers. Proprietary schools also offer other opportunities to educators. While professors at colleges and universities may feel the pressure to do research and to publish, and teachers in secondary schools may feel compelled to assume many responsibilities for co-curricular activities, professors at proprietary schools are free to focus on their teaching. Typically professors in proprietary schools do not face the discipline issues that occur in high school or undergraduate classrooms. Teachers who are frustrated by tenure laws that seem to protect slipshod professionals enjoy working in an atmosphere that demands a high level of professional commitment.
Professors who teach in proprietary schools spend their time preparing classes, meeting with students, grading work, and participating in committee work at the department or school level. Professors enjoy a fairly flexible schedule and often are responsible for five or six classes each semester. Because proprietary schools must match their course content with current demands in business and industry, professors must invest a great deal of time upgrading their knowledge base. Classes may range from lectures in front of hundreds of students to seminars that are designed for fewer than thirty students. Each different teaching situation demands excellent communication skills. Professors must also spend time developing learning experiences that help students master the course material and must establish fair standards for assignment and course grades.
In order to qualify for consideration as a professor, applicants must have a strong background in the specialized field that they plan to teach. Typically proprietary schools look for faculty who has held the job that they will prepare other people to qualify for. In addition to the required business or industrial background, applicants must have a master's degree in their field and must have demonstrated their skills as a communicator and a teacher. Many applicants are encouraged to teach evening school courses as a way to develop these skills. Since proprietary schools do not typically run on a traditional school year, applicants should be prepared for an extended school year.