Archive for October, 2008

I think most of you know that we moved here because Dan was asked to do an exchange program between Purdue University and Freiburg University. It’s one of the most prestigious universities in Germany; however, I’m sure most of them claim that.

Even though Dan finished his Masters in German Linguistics at Purdue, they still allowed him to do this exchange. It’s really a friendly, verbal agreement between the schools. Dan teaches German in America, but he’s handling the English language here. He’s running the writing lab created two years ago by another Purdue graduate student. The standards to get into this school are high and most of the students speak quite good English, but some of them really struggle with writing and grammar. They need a lot of help learning how to properly express themselves and how to do so in an organized manner. Dan will help those students struggling most with these issues.

As for me, I am teaching. I have long felt the yearning to teach college and knew that I would probably end up doing just that at some point. The best deal is to get a teaching assistant’s position in graduate school. You get your education, you get paid (meagerly), and you get to teach. That’s basically what I’m doing.

It’s truly providence for me. The last few years have felt like a jumble as I’ve been around a few jobs and towns while trying to figure out just what I want to be when I grow up. I know my heart is in a few places: music, journalism, writing, media studies, etc. The only reason I got away from journalism was because I was in a very unhealthy place at WVPE in Elkhart. I left there a wounded and somewhat intellectually malnourished puppy, and I feel like I’m finally back on top where I need to be. I have worked to get here. I’ve done a lot of observing, listening, talking, and tons of reading to make up for what I didn’t get within the drab walls of WVPE.  My last job at Purdue also helped get me on the path to renewal.

I guess you’re wondering what I’m teaching. Dan’s boss, the dean of the English seminar, asked me to create a class on journalism and writing. They’ve had a few journalism classes before, but it’s not something that is offered much. What I came up with is now titled Professional Writing with Clarity and Style. The professional writing part implies that we will learn about non-fiction writing in the journalism/marketing vein. I hope to prepare these students for exploring careers in any of those areas or to at least equip them to do freelance writing. The clarity and style part is for the emphasis we will put on how to write clearly, concisely, and in an organized manner while maintaining a unique voice.

All students struggle with this whether they are native speakers or not. Sadly, I don’t believe our public education system at home does a good job of teaching students how to do this. It barely teaches them the basics of grammar. I find this to be a terrible shame. It’s not because I am a language snob and think we should all follow the rules down to the letter; however, I know for certain that some mastery of language and writing allows us to express ourselves better, which is truly empowering. It can mend fences. It can also tear them down. How we wield that power determines this. I am a great champion of commas and punctuation in general. They tell your reader where to pause/how to read, and they can completely change the meaning of a sentence. So, as you can see, there is power in commas alone.

You can probably tell that I am very passionate about writing and teaching, but I am a bit nervous. I have worked with many college interns and have worked for NPR as a mentor in their Next Generation Radio program. I’ve been a panelist for political debates. I’ve been a television guest many times on public television. I’m not bragging here. I’m saying that I have some experience in front of people. But, no amount of radio or TV experience really prepares you for the responsibility of a classroom. I feel a great duty here to impart accurate information and strong ethics to these students. Most of them are freshman or sophomores, so what I say and do can make or break their interest in writing and journalism. I am excited and I want them to be excited.

My first class is this coming Tuesday the 21st. I will blog here frequently about my experiences and how it feels to become a teacher. There is a lot of becoming to do, and I imagine that the becoming—the learning—never ends, which is really why I like knowledge. You can’t get too much and there’s always more.

Besides teaching, we are both taking classes.  Dan is taking a class on teaching German as a second language. I am taking a class on teaching English as a second language. I am also taking an intensive German course. I expect my German to be much, much better in a few months. My comprehension is growing quickly with the experience I already have to build on, but I still hesitate to speak. I’m afraid I’ll say something dirty like Dan did in high school while living with his host family here in Germany. At least when I say something dirty in English, I’m aware of it.

We also just learned that we will get to visit Romania! This will be quite an adventure. I’m anxious to see eastern Europe. We will teach a writing workshop together at Iasi University (pronounced YASH). We’ll leave on November 10th for five days. I hear that they spoil their guests with food. Any country that wants to spoil me with food is one worth visiting.

Iasi Palace of Culture

When this year is said and done, I think these opportunities will have served to open some doors for us. I expect to continue on into grad school back home. My time here should make getting into the program I want and where I want a lot easier, I hope. I have yet to determine the what and where. What I do know is that that I’m going confidently in the direction of my dreams. I still don’t know exactly where they will lead me, but I know I’m going in the right direction. I’m doing what I want to do.

I really want to hear what teachers have to say about their experiences. Do you have advice for me? What should I avoid? I can tell you I’ve learned a lot about what to avoid from mediocre teachers in my past. I’ve learned the most from the good teachers. Observing really is one of the best ways to learn, but I’m still quite green. Suggestions are very welcome.

-Frau Jones

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