Off the Streets and Into the Classroom: Your New Teaching Career
This article is part of In Public Safety’s September focus on career transitions.
By Chris Davis, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice at American Military University
As I looked towards my third career, my previous experience transitioning from the military to law enforcement was helpful, but now I faced an even greater challenge by starting another career in academia. Here are the steps I took to successfully make this career change.
Step 1: Investigate Job Requirements
About eight to nine years before I planned to retire from law enforcement, I started researching the educational requirements for adjunct instructors at local colleges and universities. Most of them required a master’s degree in the discipline you wanted to teach.
Step 2: Go Back to School
Most officers who want a career in academia will have to complete at least a graduate degree. I was fortunate enough to complete my Master of Science in Criminal Justice before retiring from my first career in the U.S. Air Force. Earning a degree can take a lot of lead time; do not underestimate the time it will take to complete such a program, especially if you are a full-time working professional. Start this step of the process as soon as possible.
Step 3: Network
I started asking around and looking at local university employment websites about eight years before I retired. Again, good fortune played a part in my career, as a friend of mine was completing her undergraduate degree at a local university and mentioned that the university was in need of an adjunct instructor in criminal justice. I made an appointment with the campus director, applied for the position, and got my foot in the door.
Step 4: Teach Classes Regularly
Even though I had a very hectic full-time law enforcement job, I made a point to teach at least one course each semester. As the years went on and I became more comfortable teaching and building courses, I decided to look into online teaching. At this point, I started the first step all over again and began researching universities that had online criminal justice programs. To my surprise, several universities had online programs and many were looking for adjunct instructors.
Step 5: Teach More Classes
I researched several of the universities that had openings and were a good fit for me, and applied for positions. I was, again, fortunate enough to get hired by another university. While this was a very challenging step, it gave me experience teaching a variety of courses and helped to build my teaching resume.
Step 6: Retire!
After teaching for about eight years, I decided to finally retire from law enforcement. I felt confident I had taken the right steps to prepare for retirement and was comfortable with my new career path. I contacted the original university that had hired me and they agreed to add a few additional courses to my schedule each semester.
The key to success in transitioning careers is to start the process as early as possible. Several years before your anticipated retirement date, start thinking about what you want to do next. It takes a considerable amount of time to gain the right educational background, work experience, and professional network to align with your desired career. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to start this process early.
Feel confident that as a veteran law enforcement officer you have the skills and the real-world experience that many universities seek in faculty members. But you have to realize that your first-hand experience is not enough. You must have the proper education and teaching experience to be an effective educator. If you take these steps and give yourself plenty of time to prepare, retirement and career transition can be a very manageable and rewarding process.
About the Author: Chris Davis retired from the U.S. Air Force where he worked for the Security Police. He then spent 17 years working for a local police department, serving in a variety of roles. Chris has a B.S. in Criminal Justice from the University of Maryland and a M.S. in Criminal Justice from Eastern Kentucky University. He currently teaches courses in criminal justice for American Military University. Chris is a huge sports fan and will watch anything sports-related. He has been married for more than five years and has one son.