It turns out retirement is not Dr. Howard Pitler's strong suit. A recent appointment has him teaching educational leadership courses online for middle and secondary school educators in the graduate program at Emporia State University. While this is Dr. Pitler's first year as an associate professor, he has taught as an adjunct for the past six years.
Teaching for 29 years in the Wichita Public Schools, he also acted as band and orchestra director. Eventually, he served as assistant principal before 19 years as an elementary and middle school principal. After leaving Wichita, he moved to Denver to work for McREL International, eventually serving as their chief program officer.
He felt ready to retire in 2015, moving to Kansas City to be closer to his family. He volunteered at his grandsons' schools and decided that he wanted to get back into the classroom regularly.
"And then I decided to teach one class at Emporia. The next thing I knew, I was teaching pretty much full time," he said. "When I tried to retire, I failed because education is really so much of who I am that I just missed that."
Dr. Pitler enjoys teaching online but misses being on campus. Without the pandemic, he would spend more time there.
"My students come from literally all over the world," he said. Applications like Flipgrid enable them to communicate through video and discussion boards. In addition, Dr. Pitler makes himself available online to assist more students.
"I usually have office hours on Wednesday evening at 7. For my students who are in China and South Korea, that's in the middle of their next morning," he said. "We've become pretty good at building collaborative relationships online. One of my sayings is that kids don't care what you know unless they know that you care. Education is all about building relationships. It's harder to do that online, but you can do it."
ESU's graduate-level online courses are designed to foster interaction between students and the instructor.
"The students have group discussion boards where they have to respond to a specific prompt, and then they have to respond to the responses of at least two other students in the class who have similar or dissimilar views," Dr. Pitler said.
As the instructor of the final capstone course, he usually looks forward to meeting students and shaking hands at graduation. The pandemic prevented such an occasion, and a virtual ceremony was held instead.
While Dr. Pitler misses teaching in person, he values the flexibility afforded by the online program. Alongside his ESU commitments, he can easily find time for Harley Club meetings and impromptu walks with his wife, herself a retired teacher who taught third grade for more than 30 years.
When he isn't riding his Harley with his wife (12,000 miles last year), he's playing percussion instruments at his temple and spending time with his three grandsons: a 2-year-old, a first grader and a third grader.
Finding His Path
Dr. Pitler spent many years working on his own education. He received a Bachelor of Arts in music education at Indiana State University, and his master's in music performance and Ed.D. in educational administration from Wichita State.
When he was a new band director early in his career, writing books and becoming a university professor were the last thing on his mind.
"Teaching college was never a goal of mine," he said. "I keep telling my students to be prepared for whatever is going to happen. You really don't know where your path is going to take you, so never close any doors."
Dr. Pitler has published four books on classroom instruction, including one focused on using technology. Courses he teaches in ESU's online programs include ED 810: Supporting Technology Integration for School Leaders and ED 833: Beliefs, Values, and Issues in Educational Practice.
He enjoys working with other ESU faculty members, though they have yet to physically meet due to the pandemic. They recognize that life can get in the way for their online students, and Dr. Pitler is no exception.
"So many of my students were impacted by COVID-19. We had some conversations unrelated to the course itself about their health and well-being. We try to help and show as much grace as possible when students need us," Dr. Pitler added.
Through the years, Dr. Pitler has worked as an educational consultant in all 50 states, three U.S. territories, and eight countries. He's currently developing an online workshop focused on leadership and classroom observation for teachers in Sweden.
A number of accolades dot his track record as an educator, including National Principal of the Year, Smithsonian Laureate, and Apple Distinguished Educator nominated by Steve Jobs.
As a traveling consultant, he was always on the road to implement research in school districts nationwide. Emporia State has been a welcome change for Dr. Pitler who now enjoys being home every night.
"When I was hiring teachers [as an assistant principal and then as principal], I knew that Emporia put out some of the best teachers around," he said. "People come to Emporia because of the reputation of the school."
Learn more about Emporia State University's online Education programs.
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