I started teaching a few years ago, public speaking at the local community college. I loved it; I’m good at it. I got to connect with people of all ages, in school for all reasons. There is nothing like being responsible for teaching a valuable, necessary skill to people who don’t share your racial background, your ethnicity, your gender, your overall interests, your political affiliation, your life goals, your amount of time alive. The learning is mutual, even from the dually enrolled high schoolers. I’m struggling this semester, though. I’m not teaching public speaking.
My undergrad degree is in English. I’ve always wanted to teach literature or creative writing. Last fall I went to the dean when classes were being distributed and asked to be considered for English as well as public speaking. It turned out that there were no available public speaking classes, so I was asked to teach Technical Writing. Sure, I can do that.
I did that. I didn’t like that. It’s a hard skill to teach, but I say that with the confidence that I can still teach it. It’s just hard, though, especially when basic composition isn’t a prerequisite, and especially when it’s a required course rather than an elective (which would mean people who were interested in the field or something similar would be the ones taking it instead of construction management majors who can’t possibly render themselves less interested). But, I understand its needing to be required. If it weren’t, there’d be too few students signing up for it. Probably.
Last semester, I had eight students registered. By the time the class started, it was down to five. After the first class, it became four. This is the type of class that’s allowed to remain small since it’s a required course. We did OK last semester, the students trying to relate to a course that wasn’t necessarily in line with their chosen field, and me trying to make it interesting and relevant. It can be a useful skill, technical writing. At its base, there’s grammar and writing review. We made it through. They said they learned something. (I do have to wonder sometimes about feeling like I’m failing at trying to relate the course to their lives. Not every class is going to do that, right? History is relatable. Math is necessary as is most sciences, but they’re still relatable. Learning to write better, learning to write differently, technically? I’m not sure where I was going with this. I guess my point is it doesn’t HAVE to be relatable. Just pass the class.)
This year I never got past three registrants and currently only have two. It was converted to independent study in week three, so we do all of our work online. I post assignments, they post the homework. I post discussions, they post responses. It is incredibly boring this way. We meet for exams and once a month in general, but other than that, we’re behind a screen. We miss that real-time, in your face connection. Plus, it feeds into my predilection for forgetfulness (read: laziness). I will forget to post on the day I was supposed to, so I have to set reminders. With an in-person class, I was always on the ball, even on the nights that I knew I was winging it, I would come up with SOMETHING.
I’ve asked to be considered for public speaking again (while not being taken off of technical writing because tell the truth: two classes offer twice the pay (which, if we’re being honest, I enjoy teaching, but I’m also getting paid to teach. The money is a factor)). But I continuously ask myself about whether I’m doing my best in technical writing. Am I dedicated? Does the subject rouse enough emotion in me to impart it upon the students? Am I giving them what they need? Am I responsive? How can I relate tech writing to their larger existence? When I forget to grade something or post an assignment, do I work fast enough in rectifying it? The simple answer to that one, sadly, is no. Not always.
My oldest daughter commented recently about how teachers at her school seem disinterested, how the younger ones talk about their ultimate job goals (surprise! It’s not teaching). She feels let down when her math teacher, a class she wasn’t necessarily excelling in, says he can’t wait until he lands the job he actually wants. It makes students wonder if their poor grade is really an indicator of ability or more a teacher’s unmotivated teaching.
I don’t want to stand in front of a class of people, or sit behind a computer instructing a group of people, when my heart’s not in it.
So in the spirit of wishing her teachers were in the careers they wanted, I have to admit I just don’t like teaching technical writing much versus being bad at teaching it. I suppose I should start thinking about whether I want to continue with it. I just got the email asking me if I’m available to teach it in fall.