THE SMOKE DETECTOR: Transition to a (Mostly) Teaching Life

By Jeffrey McGowan posted 05-31-2016 23:23


As of June 30 of this year, I am making a huge transitional jump in my CPA career, resigning as a tax partner, and becoming a full-time accounting/tax professor at Trine University. While I’ll still retain some limited client contact as a consultant/employee of my prior firm, my primary focus will be on teaching accounting and taxation to college students.

This is a daunting plunge for me after 30+ years solely in public accounting, but one that I hope I will find as challenging and mind-stretching as I have  found my full-time public accounting life. And one that I can honestly say was never boring! I truly hope that I can translate my 30+ years of public accounting experience effectively into the classroom.

So my question for discussion here: “How do I transfer my 'old school’ training and development, that I put forth for many years in my public accounting CPA life, and make that relevant to a classroom of students who are exceedingly more proficient technologically than myself; i.e., can an old dog teach new tricks? I am going to make a conscious effort to not get into an 'in my day when we had to walk uphill both ways to prepare a Form 1040 and you kids ...  (fill-in)’,  which is harmful and demeaning  to us all. We all need to work together, and the sooner the “you’s” become “we” the better we will all operate!

One “old school” area I will still employ is preparing tax returns by hand. Despite today’s graduates’ exceptional technological expertise, I still find that many times a total trust of computers to do the work can lead to unexpected (and incorrect) outcomes. Computers are a wonderful tool, but our new hires also need to be able to critically analyze whether  the outcome on paper (or on screen) makes sense, and matches the expected outcome. Too often, a lack of knowledge of the intricate details can lead one astray when interpreting the results forthcoming. Yes, we have wonderful tools to help us crunch the data, but how can we drive home the importance of analyzing whether the resulting data make sense?

Critical thinking is often cited as a needed skill. In fact, it’s one of the core competencies that INCPAS and the CPA Center of Excellence® have been promoting. And it’s not the only important one – they all contribute to the CPA of the future serving an expanded role and becoming proficient in vital business skills to add value for clients and employers. I truly hope I can utilize my gray-headed experience in today’s classroom and be able to discuss meaningfully how one can apply critical analysis to big data in the CPA world. Is this something we can even teach, or do students require  “hands-on” trial and error to obtain critical thinking skills? I’d welcome thoughts, comments and suggestions on what skills accounting professors truly should try to focus on and hone in the classroom.

For recent college graduates, I would greatly welcome comments and suggestions on what projects, discussions, etc., have proven the most relevant to your initial years in the CPA world   public or private. Taking this a step further, what did you not obtain (take away) from your college accounting/tax courses that you think would have been useful in your current work as a CPA? Looking back, what could your accounting/tax professors have done better (more of/less of) to transition from book knowledge to the practical application of those ideas? I hope that we continue to have open dialogues on better ways to train and engage our young professionals they are our most important resource.

#CPA #Education #careertransition #vitalbusinessskills #criticalthinking #publicaccounting #CoreCompetencies #teaching



06-29-2016 11:46

Congratulations on moving to full-time teaching! I have been an adjunct at Indiana Wesleyan University since 2009, starting as an onsite instructor and eventually transitioning to online only. I have taught a variety of courses including basic through advanced accounting, finance, and tax. I spent 15 years in public accounting, and the last 9 as Accounting Director in the healthcare industry. Although there are some major differences between onsite and online teaching, the common theme that I hear from students is their desire to have more hands-on learning -- problem-solving rather than just lecture. As an onsite instructor, it is important to remember that students have different learning styles, so I always tried to incorporate a balance of lecture/PowerPoint and solving problems. Usually, I would choose problems from the text that were similar to the problems they would be solving for homework, which seemed to be very helpful. Encouraging students to work together on problems also seems to be a great way for them to learn. I agree with Jonathan's comment that low-tech seems to work better in a classroom environment. And I agree with you about tax prep -- I always encourage students to prepare the tax return manually and then check it using software.
Good luck and I would love to hear an update later in the year!

06-07-2016 09:45

Your move sounds very similar to my move almost one year ago. I was not as sure what I was transitioning to out of a 30+ year career in public accounting but had an opportunity to teach the spring semester at a similarly sized university. I taught Intro to Financial and Managerial Accounting and Intermediate Accounting II. The subject matter that was to be covered in these courses was significant and challenging. Teaching the courses was extremely time consuming and intense. Just to get the basic concepts across was difficult. So the higher order application of the critical thinking skill did not seem possible. I like Jonathan’s suggestions, and if I were to teach again, I would incorporate more problems and worksheets in class and less power point. Some advice I received before I started teaching was “sometimes less is more”. I think I finally adopted this philosophy about half way through the semester. Also communicating specific learning objectives and tailoring the instruction and tests to the specific learning objectives helps. Good luck in your new endeavor!

06-01-2016 15:51

First, congratulations on the move. After 3 years teaching as an adjunct at Butler my response would be to not worry about the technology angle, I think low tech works better in teaching, white boards and handouts seem to work better than powerpoints and computer applications. My struggle has been how to avoid talking too much and find ways to turn each lecture into a lab where the students need to solve a problem in class to engage the brain and link that experience to a mini lecture to connect working on a problem to the big picture.