Introduction: Teaching in the Technical College

Gregg Nelson, Instructor of English and Communication at Chippewa Valley Technical College and guest editor of this section, argues for the merits of English instruction at technical colleges. [PDF version here: Introduction: Teaching in the Technical College]

Being asked to edit a section of the Wisconsin English Journal is a big honor for me! I teach at Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC), one of sixteen technical colleges in the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS). Many, including CVTC, have satellite campuses. This means that, across the state, English is being taught not just through the University of Wisconsin System and at private colleges, but also in two-year institutions whose instructors teach writing strictly for the world of employment. Many of the technical colleges also teach Liberal Arts classes that transfer to four-year institutions.

So, what needs do we have in the technical colleges? What challenges do we face in our demographics? What is the nature of our classroom environment? This section of the Wisconsin English Journal is specific to technical colleges and contains many “best practice” examples that come from two-year faculty. Of course there is a great deal of excellent material for English teachers in the WTCS, so I encourage UW faculty to keep reading. Acknowledging that English is taught in the WTCS is important, and exciting changes are afoot. Students can now take literature and creative writing courses at CVTC and other technical colleges. Many students start at a technical college and transfer to a UW campus, which means that these contributions are important for both systems, and I’m so pleased with the WEJ for dedicating space to WTCS issues and strategies.

One reality of technical colleges is that they often enroll technical program students and transfer students together in the same classroom. Certain classes count for both types of programs, but at my school, many students are encouraged to take the more advanced writing courses to maximize their skillset and employability. So, what is the reality of that classroom, and how can we serve both demographics? Bart Ganzert’s article shares a useful assessment that addresses this reality, stressing the importance of high analytical skills at both levels, and Emily Swanson’s emphasis on the transferability of skills from first-year writing demonstrates that both technical program and transfer students often have the same needs.

Along the lines of demographics, technical colleges are full of nontraditional students who vary on background, ethnic differences, and language gaps. Also, they vary based on age. This is a demographic that is often forgotten. I remember being young enough when I started teaching to have students distrust me on sight because they were so much older than I was. Kisha Turner’s article “What I Have Learned From Teaching Nontraditional Students” raises many questions about how to best serve this demographic.

In the spirit of the global age, Rachel Dobrauc’s article “Going Global in the College Writing Classroom” argues that global learning is not just for four-year universities. This speaks the vitality and breadth of the technical college system. In a more focused piece, Jennifer Hewerdine’s “¿Comprende?” stresses the use of community literacy tutoring strategies in campus writing centers.

We all peer edit in our writing classrooms, so I’m very happy see Jim Beatty’s “Peer Review in a Learning Community” share a specific teaching technique (and even handout you could use!) to strengthen the integrity and quality of peer editing sessions. From the time I first entered education, my desire in any training session (or from any journal) was simple: “Give me something I can use!” This hands-on article helps give this issue a nice mix.

Finishing off the section is Jennifer Militello’s provocative piece “Is it My Birthday?” which stresses the teaching philosophy of allowing students to use their own lives as raw material for writing, with the result of increasing student dedication and investment in their work. I love this attitude – all teachers need something to help us get through the day, and remembering the importance of what we do is crucial.

Technical colleges in Wisconsin can be an ending to education. The long term mission of the WTCS has been to create a skillset in students so they can get a job. For some students, that is all that happens, and writing skills are crucial to that outcome. Technical colleges can also be a transition. Transcripted credit and youth options programs reach back into the K-12 system, connecting with students still in high school to transition them to the WTCS. Finally, technical colleges can be a beginning, offering students Liberal Arts courses equivalent to that taught in the UW System.

We do so much in the WTCS, and I hope these articles will help readers in all areas understand some of the work that we do. WTCS faculty have serious responsibilities. For example, I teach four classes that are also offered at UW-River Falls. That means that every student who transfers there, whether they know it or not, relies on me for instruction equivalent to what they receive there. To quote from Militello, “I graft a branch and watch it bear fruit.” I hope you enjoy these pieces, and happy grafting!

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s