Why I’m Still Teaching in Higher Education: Calling the Tune

A male professor on a road with a shoulder bag and book in hand
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 Timothy Jones is an adjunct instructor of Health Professions at Oklahoma City Community College 


“Should I Stay or Should I Go?”

The song “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by The Clash from 1981 contains the line “One day it’s fine and next it’s black,” which might describe what happened to many instructors at the beginning of the pandemic.

One day everything was fine, with in-person classes and business as usual. Then very suddenly everything changed.

Classes that had always been in person now were online. New ways of teaching and learning needed to be adopted quickly, sometimes without time for sufficient training and preparation.

Although The Great Resignation might have begun before the pandemic, 47 million people quit their jobs during 2021. Have you been asking yourself, “Should I stay or should I go?” more frequently during the past several years? Will you stay in higher education, or have you already gone? I have decided to stay.



“Changes” from 1971 by David Bowie includes the line “Just gonna have to be a different one.” Many of us have needed to be different during the pandemic and beyond—online, Zoom, hy-flex, hybrid, synchronous, asynchronous, and many other words were added to teaching and learning vocabularies where those words hadn’t previously existed.

Some words that I never added to my vocabulary and will not are “pivot” and “new normal.” I had taught for my school online from another state since January 2013. Since my Medical Terminology class was always online, there was no pivoting, and my normal didn’t change much. The most important changes I have made involve asking the right questions of students and of myself. These changes have been important factors in my decision to keep teaching in higher education.


“Roll With the Changes”—new leaf number one

“Roll with the Changes” from 1978 by REO Speedwagon reminded me “If you’re tired of the same old story…turn some pages.” I didn’t exactly turn pages (except in the hard-copy textbook that I still use), but I turned over some new leaves.

The first new leaf was asking the right questions of students. As part of this new leaf, I stopped requiring students to include a correctly-cited quotation in each forum posting. Even though I provided examples and written feedback, dealing with all the mistakes that continued to be made wasn’t worth the effort.

A new discussion forum topic “How are you?” has been present in each of my classes since the pandemic began. I now incorporate more social-emotional learning topics for students to write about in forums.

Another forum posting focuses on metacognition. After completing the first exam, students write about what changes they made to their preparation and test taking strategies and why they made those changes. In each forum, students write a response to another student’s posting, including a website in their response with an explanation about why they think that website will be helpful for the other student.


“If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands”—new leaf number two

We sang “If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands” when I was in kindergarten. Even at the end of my 36th year of teaching, it’s important that I remember teaching is one of the few things to make me truly happy.

There was a three-year period when I worked in the real world, taking inbound calls for a national ordering service, and after that, proofreading material for an insurance company. Those jobs were merely jobs. They weren’t truly meaningful for me and left me feeling empty. That emptiness brought me back to academe. I realized that teaching is an essential part of my identity. I don’t feel that I am my true self if I’m not teaching.

New leaf number two very recently resulted in asking myself two critical questions: Why am I still teaching? and should I stay or should I go?

Teaching still makes me happy. I’m not ready to retire. I would need to get another job if I left academe, and that might be the kind of job that makes me feel empty. As long as I keep asking the right questions—directed to students and also directed to myself—I keep learning and still believe that I have something to offer. That is why I’m still teaching in higher education.


The pandemic forever changed teaching in higher education. Our 2022 “Faces of Faculty” report explores what it’s like to be an instructor today, from new responsibilities to job satisfaction, from challenges to mental health. Learn more in the full report.