About four months ago I was hired to manage the Integrated Reading and Writing Learning Center (INRW LC) at Palo Alto College (PAC) in San Antonio, Texas.
“INRW” stands for “Integrated Reading and Writing.” Our center is a place where students can come to participate in reading and writing workshops and get hands-on tutorial help with tasks that have been assigned by their INRW instructors who teach in the Department of English.
I absolutely love the job for a whole bunch of reasons. For one, I get to supervise several extraordinarily talented tutors and oversee the daily operations of the INRW LC. I also get to design and lead workshops as well as work with student-writers on a one-to-one basis. They bring drafts of papers they’re composing, and I act as reader and consultant as they go through the writing process. Our ultimate goal, as we work collaboratively, is to have them produce pieces of writing they’ll be satisfied with and that will receive positive evaluations once they’re turned in.
Before coming to PAC and the INRW LC, I was employed as a lecturer in the Department of Rhetoric and Composition at the American University in Cairo (AUC), a position I held for seven wonderful years. What I like about my current job is that I still have the opportunity to teach but get to provide more personalized assistance, thus turning teaching and coaching into acts of great sharing and intimacy.
Students often ask me what it takes to become a really good writer. There’s a lot that goes into answering such a question, but if I’m forced to boil it down, I’d say that the single most important thing a person might do to get better at writing is to focus on becoming a more skilled thinker. I make this claim because writing is really just thinking on paper, in a visual form that can be shared with others.
In my case, I started getting much better as a writer when I became a graduate student and professors started pressing me intellectually. By holding me to a really high thinking standard, I had to evolve as a communicator because words were the things I was using to share the ideas I was positing. If I wanted my ideas to be compelling and precise, then my language had to be compelling and precise.
Graduate school is Boot Camp for would-be intellectuals, and my professors were working hard to turn me into a kind of Thinking Ninja. I was being tested and stressed and worked out so that I could become formidable. Because we live in a world where ideas matter, the strongest ideas, presented the most strongly, end up mattering more. Those who hold them and become skilled at sharing them, become very powerful.
This is why I ask so much of all the students I work with. I want to empower them. I want to help them gird them for battle.