In my sophomore year at Brooklyn College, I had an instructor named Peter Pitzele who always got a kick out of being called “professor.”
Peter guided me through twelve weeks of Ancient History and Philosophy, and from the moment he entered the classroom on the first day of the semester, I knew he was different.
Decades later, I can clearly picture his Ronald McDonald-style shock of salt and pepper hair and the faded jeans, poncho and sandals he wore on a daily basis. It was the perfect attire for the man who wore his heart and soul on his sleeve and shared so much of himself with his students every day.
He seemed like a character right out of the ancient texts we were studying. But his uniqueness went beyond his physical appearance. It wasn’t until years later, when popular culture coined the phrase ‘live with passion,’ that I was able to define what Peter did every day.
He loved teaching. He loved his students. He was a man with a mission to make a difference. And through his passion for his work, he shared his vision and inspired his students to seek and pursue their own passions.
I never saw Peter again after I left Brooklyn College. But he has been in my thoughts often throughout the years.
He was one of the greatest influences during my college days, and continues to be so … especially now.
Peter always laughed when we called him Professor Pitzele.
“I’m not a professor,” he would say. “I’m just an instructor.”
I never understood what that meant. After all, “Professor” was what you were supposed to call your college teachers. Or so I thought.
In January of this year, I began teaching Introduction to Broadcast Journalism at Nova Southeastern University.
And although I do everything that all the other instructors do — create a syllabus, write lesson plans, create and grade exams, keep up with emails, and oh, yes, teach — academia denies me the right to be called professor.
That’s because I don’t have enough letters after my name. And at the time, Peter didn’t either.
When I graduated college, I decided that going to work in the industry that I passionately wanted to be a part of was a better use of my time than staying in school and getting a Master’s Degree.
I had a job in television news before I even completed my Bachelor’s Degree. Why in the world should I get a Master’s?
And so today, even though I have more that 30 years experience in the industry about which I teach my students, technically, I’m not a professor.
Apparently my experience doesn’t count, because I didn’t get it from a textbook.
But my students, my “kids,” don’t seem to care.
They call me “professor” and I get a kick out of it just as much as Peter did. You see, just like Peter …
I love teaching. I love my students. I’m on a mission to make a difference. And through my passion for teaching, I hope to share my vision and inspire my students to seek and pursue their own passions.
While doing a little bit of research for this article, I Googled Peter just to see what he had been up to all these years. And I had to smile when I read that he had not only received his Master’s degree, but he had also gone on to receive his Ph.D from Harvard.
He is officially a professor. But in my heart, he always was.