Career Reflections of Social Work Educators, by Spencer J. Zeiger. Lyceum Books, Inc., Chicago, 2010, 229 pages, $44.95 softcover.
Sixty-six social work educators from 62 different institutions in 35 different states spent almost an hour each in conversation with the author during his sabbatical year in 2005 and 2006. All participants had at least 10 years’ experience as a social work educator, and more than two thirds had lengthy stays as faculty at a single institution. This book distills their wisdom for ready consumption.
The participants answered a variety of questions. Why did they become educators? Why have they continued in this role? What surprised them for good or ill during their careers? What did they know of academic politics before choosing this career? What advice would they offer search committees and others pursuing a career as a social work educator? What are the pros and cons of working in one institution for a long period of time? Their answers were grouped into 13 short chapters with a minimal amount of editorializing by Zieger.
There really is something in this book for every person interested in knowing more about social work education. As a fifth-year junior faculty member, I found that the initial chapters moved along slowly for me, but I can see how they might be valued by someone considering a new career. I passed over the explanations for this career choice, duration, and pleasant surprises rather quickly, but began to warm to new insights when the subject turned to problems and negative surprises, particularly those that dealt with toxic colleagues and departmental discord. I was intrigued by Zeiger’s discussion of the work of adulthood, which is his phrase for the developmental process by which the competitive, goal orientation of graduate school ideally morphs into mutual respect, inclusion, and reciprocity.
I believe the last four chapters are the most valuable. Zeiger's advice for those looking to enter social work education should be read by every candidate before applying for a job. Search committees should give careful consideration to the chapter on conducting a search. The chapter about transitioning into a faculty position, as well as the concluding chapter about winding down a career, will be well-received by readers in those stages of life. I found each of these chapters to provide practical, concrete advice that was sensitive to the values of social work and sprinkled with just a touch of idealism. I do take comfort in the fact that a social work educator with 20 years of experience can still embrace aspirations that some might consider unrealistic.
Although the participants were quite diverse, my impression was that this is the generation of social work educators who entered academe after a maturing as social work practitioners. As anyone who attends a professional social work conference might note, the younger generation of social work academics are more comfortable with research than they are with practice. Accordingly, I suspect replication of this study with this younger generation might produce substantially different perspectives. Even so, this is a useful book for social work educators and those considering this career.
Reviewed by Peter A. Kindle, Ph.D., CPA, LMSW, assistant professor at The University of South Dakota. Kindle can be contacted by e-mail at Peter.Kindle@usd.edu.