When do practicing interior designers decide to choose teaching as a career? Most students begin their studies with ideas of owning their own firm or working for an architectural or interior design firm—with images of achieving glory and fame, perhaps influenced by the latest cable decorating or design shows. However, there does seem to be a shortage of interior designers choosing teaching as a career, as evidenced by the struggle some academic institutions face when trying to attract qualified instructors. Yet, as enrollment in interior design programs grows (over the past three years, the graduation rate for FIDER-accredited programs has increased about 15 percent), clearly the demand for qualified educators will continue to rise.
Eric Wiedegreen, Professor and Chair of Interior Design at Florida State University and President-Elect of the Interior Design Educators Council (IDEC), says that a key issue in filling the shortage of design educators is finding individuals who have the proper academic credentials. "Many practitioners have a world of experience, but do not have graduate degrees in an appropriate subject area. Most accredited programs (accreditation meaning regional or national university/college accreditation) will require advanced degrees— master's degrees and often times solely Ph.Ds. A typical interior design program would probably want a teacher with five or more years of somewhat diverse professional experience plus a graduate degree. Passage of the NCIDQ Examination is almost universally present in position announcements (under 'preferred' qualifications)."
Because master's level and doctoral level interior design programs have not been widely available, colleges and universities often choose instructors with Master of Architecture or advanced degrees in other fields (see sidebar for IDEC list of institutions with advanced degrees). FIDER's recent survey of institutions indicates that 397 full-time faculty are employed in the 105 FIDER-accredited programs that shared data (in 2004). Of these, 25 percent have Ph.D.s, 66 percent have master's degrees and nine percent have bachelor's degrees. FIDER statistics indicate that of the fulltime faculty that have master's degrees, 31 percent hold Master of Architecture degrees, 39 percent have Master of Interior Design or Interior Architecture degrees, and the rest have master's degrees ranging from history to fine arts to environmental design. Although there are those that cringe at the thought of educated architects teaching future interior designers, I think that our profession must remain open-minded to find the best people to become educators. For instance, I know an interior designer with more than 20 years experience who received her Master of Science in Management. With a focus on business, she is highly qualified to teach Professional Practice, Strategic Planning, Marketing and Contracts to students. Individuals with advanced degrees in anthropology, fine art, art history or sociology and psychology can bring a unique—and highly regarded—perspective to the classroom. Wiedegreen comments, "Every design educator is not a studio teacher, and thus we can draw from a wide range of educational/ experience backgrounds."
As students leave college with their interior design undergraduate degrees, it is NCIDQ's hope that they will immediately enroll in IDEP (Interior Design Experience Program) and then pass the NCIDQ Examination. I would like to see our profession urge these new practitioners to consider advanced degrees after working for a few years (five or so.) Not only would additional education contribute to their everyday practice, but these younger practitioners could in turn become qualified to teach at schools around North America— either as adjunct, keeping up with their practice, or as fulltime tenured faculty. Following this route, future educators would already possess the NCIDQ credential prior to embarking on their teaching careers. (Interestingly, only 42 percent of the full-time faculty that FIDER surveyed in 2004 has passed the NCIDQ Examination.)
Additionally, those practitioners who may consider themselves "seasoned," with 20 or more years' experience, might find a second career as teachers if they chose to enroll in either a master's or Ph.D. program. The number of online programs is growing, making it easier (at least from a geographic perspective) to obtain an advanced degree without relocating or traveling a great distance.
One way to enter the teaching profession is to offer to be a guest speaker or lecturer. Instructors and students love to have first-person accounts of the profession from experienced practitioners or to receive constructive criticism during a design studio review. If you do a stellar job and show interest, an opportunity may arise to begin as an adjunct professor. Most programs hire part-time adjunct faculty, who teach one or two classes a semester. Typically these classes are two and one half to three hours in length for a period of 15 to 17 weeks.
Preparation time (outside of class) can average two to four hours or more per week, depending on how comfortable and knowledgeable you are of the subject matter. You also need to allow time to read papers, review design projects and give feedback to students. Pay for teaching one class can range from $1,200 to $3,500 or more depending on your experience. The average salary range for fulltime faculty is $44,818 - $65,176 per year (FIDER, 2004 data).
You may also find opportunities to teach from your own home: The Art Institute Online offers interior design classes through its distance learning program, allowing students to study at home and allowing educators to teach from their own home or office-based computer (www.aionline.edu). For more information about pursuing a career in academia, The Chronicle of Higher Education is considered the resource for university- level educators. The site has information on career opportunities, advice for job seekers and much more (www.chronicle.com).
Teaching may not be at the top of interior design graduates' minds when they are fresh out of school. However, as mentors, guest speakers and adjunct faculty, our obligation to the profession may be to encourage young practitioners and students to consider an opportunity in academia. Will young designers give up the possibility of 15 minutes of television fame for the chance to make a lasting impression as an educator? Who knows, a show about interior design educators may be the next big thing in reality designer television.