A New Year of Teaching

My silence on my blog reflects the late December news that I would, indeed, be working in January.  And not just one or two courses but a full-load of 4 classes, 3 different courses, none of which I’d taught before.  So amidst the Christmas, News Years and birthday festivities I scrambled to get a grip on what I would be doing this term.

Despite all the prep, I found my first week of teaching resulted in shifting all my course plans to be more relevant to my students’ programs.  This term 3 of the 4 sections I’m teaching are in programs I’m unfamiliar with, so rather than force my students to learn to write based on a topic area I’m familiar and comfortable with, I’ve decided to ask THEM what is important to their future careers.

This was met with hesitation at first.  But as I circulated through my classes, poking and prodding the students to think about the communications skills important to their future careers, slowly students began to share.  And as the week went on, the excitement seemed to grow.  Now instead of being the dreaded “English class” they are all being forced to complete, these students are beginning to see value in the learning to perfect their communications skills.

Where does that leave me?  Standing on shifting sand for a term as students tell me that a case or scenario I’ve come up with is not at all relevant to what they will be doing.  Luckily, I’m not married to my course plans.  I have this gift of being able to change topics at the drop of a pin but what I need is to know is what the topics should be.  So far the students seem to be engaging with this and providing me with plenty of ideas.

I can feel a real change in the way I’m approaching my work as well.  A newfound confidence, perhaps.  I know I can teach writing.  Any kind of writing.  I also know I’m better at it than most people who are doing so at the post-secondary level.  This self-knowledge has grown not through the piles of positive teaching evaluations I have in my filing cabinet but with the completion and successful defense of my dissertation.  For four years I struggled in the PhD program and wondered what I was doing, at times only a fraction away from dropping out, unable to see how what I was doing was going to translate to the “real world.”  Deep down I knew the teaching of composition and post-secondary writing was what I wanted to focus on, but it was not easy to stick with that decision.  I was advised to change my topic by so many academics.  I tried to change it twice but after writing up detailed research plans for topics as diverse as service learning and educational technology, I always came back to composition studies.

Now as I begin a term filled with writing instruction, I truly feel that I am doing my own thing.  Shaping relevant and useful courses.  A part of me still longs to teach my beloved composition studies rather than professional writing but, at the same time, I’m in a phase of rapid growth as an instructor now.  I’m also embarking on my first research project as a co-investigator post-grad.   And for the first time in a long time I’m truly excited about working with my students on their writing skills.  For now, that is enough..

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