After teaching the lesson, I realized how enjoyable it was. However, observing my sister play the role of “broken record” made me certain that I couldn’t teach elementary level kids. And I’m generally annoyed by high schoolers so they were also out. That left me with the college level which I honestly began to consider. I had an epiphany this semester that I no longer fear the workshop but instead get a sort of adrenaline rush listening to people critique my work and bring about ideas I hadn’t considered. And in college, people chose the classes they want to take. Students in levels below college are forced to write papers and therefore often times bullshit their ways through the standard 5 paragraph structure that is basic writing. But in college, I can easily surround myself with people who are passionate about their writing and honestly want to see an improvement, not just a grade inked into the top corner of their assignment.
Since I already planned on going to grad school which I learned is a requirement for being a college writing professor, I felt as though I’m already on track for the profession. In order to figure out the remaining steps, I interviewed Professor Sanford Tweedie. The interview was as follows:
LB: Did you always want to be a teacher or did you try your hand at a different career first?
ST: Oh my how long can I make this story? Ok I’ll do the short version. When I graduated from college I entered a poetry master’s program. But I didn’t like it and quit. Then I thought “now what? Ok I’ll try school…” This is first time thought about being a teacher. My mother was a high school English teacher so I had had no desire to be one as well. I went back to Michigan to get a certification in teaching. I was taking masters courses and applied to teach freshmen comp at same time I was student teaching for the 8th grade. I blame it on my supervising teacher. I didn’t have the patience for these kids but nothing bothered my advisor. So I started teaching college and have been doing that ever since.
LB: What degrees do you hold as a writing professor?
ST: Bachelors in English lit form u Michigan masters in language and PhD from university of Wisconsin English in communication and rhetoric.
LB: What did the process of becoming a writing teacher involve?
ST: I think they do a better job now. Was taking a method course for high school English some “how to write” in that. As a TA, there was a practicum about teaching writing another course on writing theory=introduction. Learning is teaching. I don’t remember an orientation.
Glib answer to previous question: I didn’t learn to teach writing until I could take apart other peoples writing so yeah in order to teach writing I had to understand structure organization how people move from idea to idea and discuss that.
LB: Do you do/have time for writing on the side?
ST: [Chuckles] Well as a professor you have to write it’s a requirement of tenure of service of everything you do. Your question is do I write things I wanna write, right? We had to write a letter when they redid the tenure. I’m writing constantly [chuckles] trying to work on my own stuff, on academic stuff, on my career stuff, but not as much on my own as I’d like. I’m looking around my office and there’s nothing but words. All these piles are piles of words. Shadows of a Fallen Wall took 11 years to write. It’s very easy in academia to get distracted because there’s a lot of other things going on that require immediate attention. What hurts people in tenure is that there is so much to do and scholarship gets pushed to the side.
LB: What is your favorite part of being a writing professor?
ST: [pondering] Can I answer that a couple different ways? I enjoy working with text and because I’m working with students we can see those texts change and alter and become stronger and students as developing writers gain awareness of what they’re doing. But then to answer a different way, part of why I don’t think I would have been a good high school teacher is because that’s
The term professor encompasses teacher scholarship service opportunity to guide college curriculum development assessment so much more than just teaching so uh you know this was 1994 a dept of communications and we were the college writing program and ive had opportunity to watch it grow and be a part of it we have 4 majors as undergrad and a masters. Its feeling part of something bigger not just teaching. That’s what I see as one of my roles in this. I think sometimes my collegueas loose sight of the student. Not the just teaching is important and im easily, distracted don’t mind doing 1000 things at once.
LB: What is your biggest struggle as a writing professor?
ST: [laughs] that’s a good question Lacey [pondering] the biggest struggle is also the biggest reward. The student writing, I mentioned before how much I enjoyed that. I enjoy working with text but the paper load is tremendous and staying on top is difficult. But I refuse ask students to do less to lighten that load. I’m a believer that you learn through the writing.
Finding time to clean my desk is another struggle.
LB: My desk is a mess, don’t feel bad. Have you ever taught at a level below or above undergrad? If so, what was it?
ST: Yes, I taught 8th grade and BOF students (summer programs before college) I taught master students for a dozen years now. I’ve taught German student undergrads. I like undergrad, I think it’s an important transitional state. That’s why I like to teach intro classes.
LB: Have you ever taught a class not geared toward writing arts majors? If so, what was it and how did you approach writing for people without the proclivity for it?
ST: Well I teach in the same way that I do in a course like the Writer’s Mind. I mean I’ve taught first year German students culture writing. They don’t teach writing at a college level there. I’ve taught a class kind of like a sociology current events course. In every course you have to build a sense of trust between you and students and students with one another and challenge them in a way they don’t want to be challenged. There’s resistance.
LB: What qualities do you think writing teachers need to have?
ST: [laughs] The same qualities all good teachers need to have. They need to care, be open, and be receptive. They have to understand where students are coming from to see they know their material. They must also be willing to say “I don’t know.” They have to believe in the students and that they can get better. They must help guide them from where they are to where they want to be and make the classroom interesting. And you gotta ultimately, especially at the college level, gotta wanna learn. I mean you have to continually rethink the course, what you’re doing, what the students are doing, and learn from what they have to say. Yeah you gotta be fair, gotta offer good assignments, gotta offer lots of feedback.
LB: Do you have any additional advice?
ST: Yes I’m not sure what you’re gonna do with this but here’s been my strategy: I never suggest to a student that they get a PhD in anything. If the student is interested in that, I’ll be glad to guide them in that or send them to someone who can help. But graduate school is something you spend years getting a degree for and you’ll probably teach for that university for low pay with no benefits. It destroys relationships in part that it takes up so much time and part that if you wanna go to a program you probably have to move and to get a job you probably have to move again. You don’t usually get to choose were you wanna go. The likelihood of a local job isn’t strong.
Grad school is something you must really want to do. You can’t go into in half-heartedly. This is a very broad statistic but just want to give you an idea: 60% of undergrads get a degree. Of those who start getting their PhD, half will complete course requirements and half of that will complete dissertation. They’ve written papers as undergrads but papers start to get book length and are supposed to show you belong in the field. People don’t finish. If they don’t finish, not all of them get jobs. And if they do, not all get tenure. I hear people all the time say, “Oh, I wanna be a professor, you guys have it so good,” and I say, “Go ahead, have fun.”
One of my professors said, “You do so much work to get tenure and then you have to do more work.” There are so many hurdles. You really gotta wanna do it or else it’s really gonna make you miserable.
Additional sources that I searched for included pros and con lists of being a college professor and of being a writer since I couldn’t find one list that combines both. I also searched the rowan Career Management website and found a database that gave pretty much all the information for being a communications professor (For the most part “writing professor” was unsearchable and I had to look at “communications professor.”) The database was the most insightful aside from the interview. It referenced the skills, values, earnings, interests, etc. of the career. The database allows you to log in an take short quizzes that assess you interests and present you with a profile. There is a graph in the database that depicts the interests of the average communications professor and does a side-by-side comparison with my own interest profile. I found that my top two ranking interests (artistic and social) matched the top two ranking interests for the communications professors.
I also found that the values and skills matched with what Prof Tweedie said in the interview. Some values listed in the databse include helping, listening, and managing time. As was mentioned in the interview, Prof Tweedie said that a teacher must be able to listen to the student and give helpful feedback. Healso mentioned how is biggest struggle is being able tom keep up with all of the work he assigns.
Several of the pros and cons lists that I found were created by sources that may not be entirely credible but the information provided is mostly self-evident. For example, the pros and cons of being a writer offered by a personal blogger by the name of Aidenofthetower are:
*A creative outlet
*The Hand of "god"
*Set Your Own Hours
*Most writers…only continue to write because it is what makes them feel whole inside or they have hope for a better outlook.
*Poor Financial Compensation
*Difficulty Selling What You Have Written
As applied to my interview with Prof Tweedie, these all make sense. He mentions how he gets satisfaction from watching people grow as writers while also observing improvements in his own writing. And from the con list, being a professor involves a lot of writing and moving from place to place which means spending a lot of time alone writing and even possibly ruining relationships.
I had no idea what I would learn from the project. I assumed I would figure out the necessary steps for becoming a professor and what the pros and cons were. But my interview with Prof Tweedie was more more in depth and more personal than any other sources I used. Even the cons I found didn’t deter me from the idea of being a writing professor as much as Professor Tweedie did. And I’m not even upset that he changed my mind about being a writing professor because I wasn’t terribly dead set on it. While it’s frustrating to be back at square one, I’m glad he influenced my career choice now before I spent all that time and money in grad school. I may still go to grad school I just still haven’t figured out what for.
How to be a College Writing Professor
The most important and influential advice that I received during my research was mentioned by both Prof Tweedie and Dr. Giampalmi: Your heart has to be in it. If you aren’t passionate about writing, don’t strive to be a writer. And if you aren’t looking forward to deadlines, an abundance of writing, and possible destruction of relationships with potential jumping from location to location, don’t look into becoming a college professor.
Are you skilled at
Writing and Authoring?
If yes, than you have the skill set required to be a communications professor as listed in the Rowan Career Database.
2-Year College requirements:
1. Undergrad degree
2. Masters degree in Writing, English, or Lit.
*Experience as a TA is beneficial for candidates
4-Year College requirements
1. Undergrad degree
2. Master’s degree in Writing, English, or Lit.
3. PhD. (Usually but not always required)
*Experience as a TA is beneficial for candidates
Get published as much as possible!! A notable resume is a must.