What am I doing here? (Updated)

This was a question I asked myself many times over during my master’s program. I became an English major after discovering the field of rhetoric. Through rhetoric I was finally given the tools I needed to discuss and interpret the world around me. Some of the language came to me through my background in political science and public policy analysis, which is what I majored in for my bachelors. In many regards though I had always been searching for rhetorical analysis and the vocabulary held within the disapline. Beyond finding myself in the field of rhetoric, it has been more of a journey allowing myself to recognize that I have a desire to teach.

Nontraditional student? Yes, I’m coming to my master’s program after a career as a manager with for-profit and non-profit organizations. I thoroughly enjoyed being in management, especially turning around a failing store or organization and getting it on track to fulfill its goals. The toughest and most rewarding part of the job was working with employees. Developing talent, encouraging people to meet their potential, and sometimes, even seeing amazing employees leave because they were able to move onto bigger and better opportunities. However, American companies have moved away from truly letting employees be developed through on the job training and have moved to hiring people for positions below their skill level and then promoting “from within.”

As a manager, I really enjoyed going through the hiring process. Its just down right fun to call someone up and offer them a job! However, my heart would break for some people as I read their resumes and job applications because I knew that their lack of skill with resumes and cover letters was holding them back. I fought back the urge to call them and suggest changes to their resume content, style, and format. So, when I encountered rhetoric and composition studies, I found a way to be able to empower people by helping them gain a necessary knowledge base. I’m passionate when I help give the writing center tours about writing as a skill students will need no matter their chosen career or field of study. I think writing well is even more important now because individuals produce more writing now than in previous eras. For example, businessmen used to dictate letters but now write their own emails to communicate with clients.

That’s only the first portion of my answer…what am I doing here? I wasn’t supposed to be here, this far along in higher education. My first class in the SCSU English Department we were asked to give our literacy narrative orally, to the class. Honestly, I think I made something up because I don’t remember learning to read. I know I learned how before I went to school and it just seemed like a given. But this assignment made me think about my formative educational years for the first time in years. Actually, part of my personal discovery during my master’s program was revisiting these old ghosts. From 1st through 7th grade I went to a very small private school that had multiple grades in the same rooms. Grades 1-4 were taught in the same room and another teacher was across the hall with grades 5-8. I was precocious and loved learning but my foundational years did not endear me to any teachers. Early in first grade my teacher put my desk in the bathroom with the door closed. This was not a large bathroom but rather a small bathroom off the classroom with just a toilet and a sink. It was dark because I was so small and the light was only on the ceiling. By 3rd and 4th grade we had a new teacher and instead of my desk being in the bathroom she created a patrician blocking me off from the rest of the class. Essentially, she just gave me my assignments and I was supposed to just do them. I was cut off from class discussion or interaction with my peers.

However, nothing compared to 5th grade, it was a special kind of hell. Our firth grade teacher was both physically and verbally abusive. I was getting older by this point and tried to not only stand-up for myself but my classmates as well. The teacher would lash out, I would say something, and he would respond by locking me in a closet where the sports equipment was kept. Or he would send me out in the hall and leave me there, for hours. There was more than once when he laid hands on me, once pushing me down and I hit my head on the metal chalktray. There was one occasion when I asked him to explain some instructions over again because I didn’t understand what he wanted us to do on the assignment. Instead of repeating himself, he made me write a confession stating that I had not paid attention in class complete with my signature and date. As I stood next to his desk, which was in front of the classroom. he told me that I would never be anything.

I did not expect to confront these demons as I read rhetorical theory, but they came up. Haunting me as normal graduate school doubt was over taken by my former elementary school teacher again whispering into my psyche. So, what’s the answer…why am I here? Its never that simple, is it? It is not simple because or in-spite of any one person or event. Rather these are all parts of me and so it should not be a surprise that I latch onto Ferreira and embrace his pedagogical philosophy. I do reflect on my actions because I do not want to devalue a student or make them in any way feel marginalized. I am here because after much struggle this is where I fought to be.

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