My Teaching Life: Sarah Read

Read_portrait_smMember of ATTW since 2009 

Occupation: Assistant Professor Department of Writing, Rhetoric & Discourse
Institution: DePaul University, Chicago, IL

On her desk right now

The stuff on my desk indexes the last two years or so of my work and life. On my desk is a pile of books including those by Bruno Latour, John Law , and Clay Spinuzzi, an edition of College English and the MLA Handbook that I have just finished using to write a contribution to an edited collection; another pile of books that are foundational texts in the study of networks (more Latour, Mol, Benkler and Castells); a used coffee mug; the certificate folder containing my CCC 2013 Technical and Scientific Communication Best Article Award (rapidly acquiring a covering of dust), and, under that (so that’s where it is!) the mailing envelope containing my PhD diploma from the University of Washington (where, or where, do people keep these?); a dog-like stuffed animal that was left at my house by a guest at my daughter’s 5-year-old birthday party placed here to remind me to find the email for the child’s parents; a manual for building a veterinary hospital out of Lego that I thought would be an interesting artifact for my introductory technical communication course; a large-screen display and the usual tech and office detritus that it always good to have on hand.

Spinuzzi network_0Most dog-eared print reference book

Clay Spinuzzi’s 2008 book Network. This book is a go-to reference for TC scholars working with activity-theory based and actor-network theory based theories of network.

Currently reading for pleasure

I read The Economist for pleasure. I’m fascinated by the unique balance that The Economist strikes editorially between reporting a strictly economic view of world affairs and commenting on the social and ethical concerns that shape them. I don’t always agree with The Economist’s often thinly-veiled reporting biases, but I find its approach refreshing. My husband can’t understand why I can read it to wind down at bedtime. This just might be because my mother is English and so English discursive practices are familiar and comforting.

DigitalDetroitCurrently reading for your scholarship or teaching

Digital Detroit by Jeff Rice

Most influential text in her teacher training

A deceptively simple question! Back in the Fall of 2001 when I first started to teach composition we read Barthomae’s Inventing the University in the teaching colloquium. I was fresh from a book publishing job in New York City and I didn’t really understand what the essay was proposing. But I sensed that what it was proposing was very interesting and pointing to an entirely new way of understanding what it means to write and to teach writing. I still think about this essay when I am teaching professional writing—what does it mean to ask students to invent a profession, or a professional workplace?

Read_ipad_smHer teaching philosophy

This is the easiest question and the hardest question! My passionate response to this question is that if I show my students how much I love what I am teaching, then they will love it, or at least engage with it, too. My semi-passionate response is that I believe that technical communication is another site within a liberal arts curriculum that is founded upon the value of preparing students to be life-long learners. My fully practical response is to always teach with the aim to balance the values of awareness and control, or the theoretical and the practical. Knowing which one precedes the other for any given lesson or topic is one of the great challenges of teaching technical communication.

What her students might say about her

A slightly scary question, but if I am honest I think my students would say that I am a nice person who cares a lot about my subject and my teaching, but that I can also tend towards the absent minded professor who gets lost in an abstract idea and who can’t remember on the spot which day a formal project is due (thank goodness for course calendars!)

Best reason for teaching technical communication

I like how it challenges me to attend to both the theoretical and the practical realms, often at the same time. I enjoy the intellectual, the pedagogical and the technological challenges of developing in students a highly transferable and rhetorical conception of technical communication, while at the same time preparing students to practice technical communication more immediately.

Read_swinging_smBiggest teaching challenge

There are days when I wish that I didn’t have to work so hard to (re) capture students’ hearts and minds at the beginning of a TC course. Even most of our WRD majors and minors have to come around from a purely instrumental view of TC into a more rhetorical and critical perspective. Why are cultural conceptions of TC as a purely instrumental (and therefore mundane and boring) rhetoric so deeply entrenched? Maybe we should retitle our courses “Revealing the Sex Secrets of the Adobe Creative Suite.”

The next big thing that technical communication teachers should learn

Learn how to teach modular writing and single sourusingdita_03_intcing within the context of a robust rhetorical and critical               theoretical framework.

If you weren’t a technical communicator, what would you be?

I started out in school and college as a science major and part of me has always regretted leaving science behind for the humanities. If I were to start my education over I would pursue climate science or research on renewable energy in order to contribute directly to solving one of the biggest problems humanity faces today. An alternate answer is that I would be a mystic and a poet and live in the mountains.