My Teaching Life: Deborah C. Andrews

debby_photoLifetime Member of ATTW since 1991

Occupation: Professor, Department of English, and Director, Center for Material Culture Studies

Institution: University of Delaware


My home office is a kind of tree house with windows on all four sides, one actually a large glass door into the corridor. I have two built-in bookcases, each topped with memorabilia of the sort Mark Twain talks about (on his mantel piece) as inspiring stories. There are a total of 9 framed prints and an original painting on the walls, all with architectural motifs except two prints of flowers. My office at the office, as it were, is pretty straight-forward, with a metal desk with side-arm for my computer. But I do have a large window (it’s in an historic building); a 6 foot, yellow, No. 2 pop-art pencil; and 8’X 3′ reproduction of a blueprint drawing of the City Hall tower in Philadelphia.


The picture conveys what’s on my desk here in my home study. The desk is Danish modern, plain wood, with a half-shelf beneath the top surface and four wheels on its straight sides. I roll it around the room to adjust to the light since, to preserve my great views, I don’t have curtains on the windows. The 3-ring binder holds paper copies of some project documents in pocket dividers. My favorite blue-and-white mug was purchased in London many years ago.

Most frequently referenced website

Obviously, I use the University of Delaware site frequently; it’s set as my homepage. And given my commute between Maine and Delaware, especially at the beginnings of semesters, I’m on the USAirways site at least daily, looking for decent fares.

Favorite teaching tool or technology

Old messy blank blackboard

Over the years, I’ve had my classroom affairs with overhead projectors and PowerPoint presentations, but a steady technology that I return to again and again is chalk and blackboard. I like the spontaneity and pace of writing while students write (or not) in their paper notebooks or on their laptops or other notebooks. I know I turn my back on them for a bit, but it’s often in the service of writing in public what they say, and in my own hand, something that confirms the humanity of their remarks.

Favorite writing instrument or hardware

I write at my laptop, mostly in my study but down on the porch when the afternoon sun becomes too hot. But I take notes, brainstorm various organizational structures, and set up the writing using a number 2 pencil on a lined 81/2×11 white pad.

Favorite font

times new romanIt’s Times New Roman 12, with Arial for headings and accents. The first thing I do when I get a new computer is change the font from Calibri, which Word seems to push, to TNR, and it bothers me when occasionally a pasted-in section of text reverts to Calibri. I even use TNR on holiday cards and event invitations, holding the font steady while I try to play and innovate with the content it conveys.

Reading for pleasure

thenewyorkerThe New Yorker has been my stalwart magazine companion for years, even during the rough period when Tina Brown was editor and violated its long-standing editorial traditions. I find the writing captivating, the topics broad and thought-provoking, and the cartoons wonderfully witty. I know I haven’t kept up with the news in general when I fail to understand a cartoon, and I correct for that.

Favorite place to read or study

studyspaceIt’s in my treehouse study. In the winter, I look out on snow-covered mountains. In the summer, I can see trees and our garden. At all seasons, when I stand and pace to think, I can see our brook and animal visitors—finches, chickadees, nuthatches, a cardinal when I’m lucky, and sometimes a few deer. It’s very quiet and soul-enhancing.

Teaching inspirations

Two very different people inspired my teaching. One, Anthony N.B. (Tony) Garvan set me on a long love affair with things, with material culture in the context of American Studies. His pro-seminar at the University of Pennsylvania was my conversion experience. The other was Peg Blickle writing program head at the Ohio State University when I joined the faculty there in 1970, co-author of a classic technical writing textbook with Ken Houp (of Houp and Pearsall). She was later my co-author of two editions of a technical writing text and good friend.

Best reasons for teaching technical communication

I like both its constraints and its scope. The course embeds a clear set of goals reflecting the need to prepare students to communicate what can be complex information to diverse audiences. But I also see wide options in strategies for doing so. I emphasize an international perspective and incorporate approaches from rhetoric and material culture studies in a mix that, I hope, plays to both my strengths and those of my students and allows us to discover new insights—and have fun–as we pursue our goals.