It’s been hard to try to get back into the habit of writing. Mostly, the problem isn’t a lack of things to say—instead, it’s a surplus. I’ve only got a few days before I have to seriously get to work at school here, including getting the classes I’m teaching together.
My “reward” for being an experienced teacher is two sections of Technical writing. I haven’t taught it before, and I really hated the class as an undergraduate. So, the challenge is to make it into something more interesting. Technical writing is a genre based writing class— covering documents such as memos, letters, instructions, reports, resumes, proposals, etc.. These documents are always audience specific, so the general framework is to stress audience analysis—select a “client’ and write for them.
The major problem is that 18-20 year old students have absolutely no idea what “clients” are like and seldom have any experience locating or working with them. The cruel world scenario (and the one I was faced with when I took the class) is that there is no alternative: if you can’t find a client, you have to make one up. Even as an experienced “non-traditional” student, I floundered. I was full time, primarily studying literature, and at a total loss for what sort of “client” I should propose something to. I ended up writing a proposal for an independent study, a skill that came in fairly handy later on. In the class I took from Roger Munger we did resumes and cover letters rather than reports. As a humanities major (and I notice that there are several of these in my classes), reports are not at all common. They have dropped teaching resumes (which are easy as far as the “client” dimension goes) in this class in Minnesota, in favor of reports. It was purely a tactical decision because it isn’t possible to cover every genre in this type of class.
I hated the resume part of the class when I took it because I had already covered resume writing in five other classes! However, now that I face teaching the class, I think I’ll miss that part. It allows you to really focus on an easily accessible form of audience analysis and stress creating targeted rather than diffuse, generic documents. Removing resumes limits your chances to talk about persuasion. Good reports, although persuasive, are far subtler in the ways they work. Another problem with reports is that they exist in so many different sub-genres—it would be difficult to make up a lesson that did more than barely scratch the surface of a few. Any way you slice it, genres that don’t apply to a person’s chosen profession border on useless and are a guarantee of boredom.
The question that I keep asking myself about teaching this class is: “Is there any way to make this class less boring?”
Oddly enough though, despite all my carping, I prefer this sort of class because it can be easily crafted into an overarching unified theme—writing with a purpose. However, creating a purpose that is both useful (rather than just another academic hoop a person dives through by creating a fictional scenario) and interesting to people of vastly different backgrounds is a real challenge. I don’t want to just dump everything in the student’s lap and force them to come up with a creative response—I’d like to find a way to make it easier and more connected with their specific needs. The hard part is doing that within the straightjacket of dictating the genres they must write in.