My teaching experience comes from teaching Writing for the Workplace twice, and teaching writing in the Information Technology Program. In both of those situations, the most important goal I have for my students is to adopt and refine a sense of professionalism that is evident in their writing and in the design of documents and websites they produce. It is a difficult goal, however, as I believe professionalism itself is a kind of literacy that requires constant study and self-awareness.
This is why Rhetoric is the perfect framework for teaching professional writing, and the vessel for other more current concepts such as professionalism. I teach my students that professional writing is, at it’s core, writing for a business audience that they can easily identify and personify in me. I give my students honest critiques of their work in a way that is lighthearted and fun. Over time, I ask them to think about what I will say about their work before they turn it in. It may seem pompous at first, but my disposition helps to ensure that I don’t come across as threatening, but instead is a reminder to see their work from a different perspective—the reader’s perspective.
I would describe my personality in the classroom as a combination of Tim Gunn and Stephen Colbert, creating an interaction with my students that serves to guide their rhetorical choices by constantly asking them to explain their choices to me, as if I didn’t know any better. Tim Gunn is a great role model in this regard because his polished sense of style is instantly recognizable yet his tone is always gentle and caring when he mentors fashion students. Stephen Colbert (the character, not the actor) is equally obvious in conveying his values to an audience, but his agressive (and contrived?) ignorance allows him to elicit honesty and critical thinking in his interviewees as they attempt to explain their position or beliefs to him. I describe myself with these two personalities because they are both witty and fun with a purpose: I believe it’s important to enjoy teaching and even more important to come across to your students that you enjoy teaching because they will respond to your enthusiasm and hopefully play along. Being a good rhetor starts with learning how to play along—learning how to adapt to a situation and learning how to communicate effectively to others in that situation.
In the classroom I believe it is easy for instructors to hold high standards for their students—the challenge is getting them to adopt the same high standards. Being too exacting without some mechanism to release the pressure does more harm than good. I strive to welcome my students into the professional world by not only emulating higher standards and an elevated sense of style, but by also openly questioning those societal standards to model the kind of critical thinking that is necessary when thinking about the rhetorical situation.
My first teaching assignment was RHET 3316 Writing for the Workplace in Fall 2005 under the supervision of Dr. Cindy Nahrwold. I was 26 years old and half of my students were older than me. But being a young graduate student I was eager and enthusiastic in my classes. I had a lot of guidance from faculty but I also wanted to find out what worked and what didn’t on my own. In this section of my portfolio I share my syllabus, grading worksheet, and a sample assignment.
To teach professional writing, there are a few learning objectives that I have for all of my students. One is the ability to summarize information, especially in the form of notes from a meeting. Summarizing and paraphrasing are key competencies in technical communication. My take on the meeting minutes assignment involves either reading a transcript of a meeting or actually being present at one. Being present at a meeting could involve actors who stage an actual meeting in class, or a video of an actual meeting that students watch. Students must pay attention to what is happening, take notes, then synthesize and reduce those notes to a summary of action items in the form of meeting minutes.
After teaching Writing for the Workplace twice, I had a unique opportunity to join the faculty of the Information Technology Program. In the program I am responsible for teaching professional writing, especially portfolio writing, as well as overseeing the capstone experience and working with students and their project clients. Here again I have been learning how to apply what I think it means to be a professional writer, or to do writing in a professional setting.
In these courses I have stressed to my students the value of reflection in writing about their own work. I have worked with the same cohort of students for two semesters. In the final capstone experience this semester (Fall 2012) I have asked them to collect and reflect on each major objective of the program:
- developing websites using HTML and CSS
- understanding spreadsheets in Microsoft Excel
- building databases in Microsoft Access
- working collaboratively on projects and proposals
- conveying all of this experience on a resume
In this section of my portfolio I have decided to showcase my students’ portfolios, most importantly their reflective pieces. In each case I have asked them to write about what they learned from producing each artifact and how the IT Minor program helped them meet each objective.