We recently spoke with Mitchell Goins and Joseph Klein, both alumni of the MA in WRD program who now work at Triton College, a two-year community college in River Grove, IL. At Triton, Mitchell serves as assistant director of ESL programs, and Joseph works as a faculty member in the English department.
We’re happy they took the time to share a little about their experiences!
Describe your career and research interests as you were going through the MA in WRD program. How did you customize the program to meet your needs?
Mitchell: I initially came to DePaul to pursue the Graduate Certificate in TESOL. My plan was to complete the certificate program and then begin looking for a teaching job overseas. That never happened, however, because I took a class entitled Teaching ESL Writing that sparked my interest in teaching writing. From that point on, I decided to pursue the MA in WRD and took all the pedagogy courses that I could. My goal became to teach writing or ESL at the post-secondary level. In particular, I became very interested in helping college students (both native and multilingual) develop academic literacy.
Joseph: My professional goal was to teach English full time at the community college level, and I chose the MA in WRD because its extensive course offerings in rhetorical theory and composition pedagogy were the best to assist me in reaching it. The program gave me a chance to focus on those areas while dabbling in everything from workplace writing to TESOL to community literacy, and to present my research at several regional conferences.
Tell us a little about the job search. How did employers respond to your WRD degree?
Mitchell: When I applied to my current job as the assistant ESL director at Triton College, I was still working toward my MA in WRD. At that time, I had only completed the Graduate Certificate in TESOL and had been teaching ESL for about a year. As you can imagine, I was surprised to get a call for an interview. I later found out that I was the last candidate to be interviewed for the position.
So how did I get the job? The short answer is: I knew my stuff. The four areas of concentration within the graduate certificate in TESOL program – Theory, Methods, Sociolinguistics, and Language Structure – together with the 20 hours of field experience, prepared me incredibly well. I went into that interview with confidence in my knowledge of ESL theory and teaching methods, current issues in the ESL field, and my own personal philosophy of teaching ESL.
Joseph: Community colleges were always very impressed with my MA in WRD degree. I had multiple tenure track job offers in an extremely tough market partially because this degree set me apart from those with literature-focused English degrees. Since community college English departments offer mostly composition and rhetoric, the MA in WRD showed both expertise in and passion for my primary teaching assignment. They were also very impressed by the electronic teaching portfolio I developed in Darsie Bowden’s Teaching Writing course.
Tell us about your work at Triton! What do you like about your job?
Mitchell: In short, I’m responsible for running the day-to-day operations of the ESL program at Triton. This includes things like coordinating registrations and orientations, developing curricula and new courses, observing instructors, and ensuring the program is in grant compliance, among other things.
My favorite aspect of my job is observing instructors and working with them to improve the quality of their instruction. This has proved to be one of the most challenging, yet rewarding, things that I do. Many of my instructors teach elementary and secondary school and have no formal training in teaching adult ESL. Others have been teaching adult ESL students for 20 plus years. You can imagine the variation in teaching styles and methods!
Joseph: I love my job! Every day I work with interesting and inspiring students, and I use my creativity and knowledge to construct transformative (well, hopefully!) learning experiences for them. I get to engage rhetorical theory and work on pedagogical problems in very practical ways. I also have the opportunity to teach literature, mentor students, assist them with advising and transfer, collaborate with my peers to improve many aspects of their academic experiences. So yes, I really have the best job!
How have you used your experiences from WRD in your work at Triton?
Mitchell: Many of the methods and strategies of commenting on students’ work that I learned in my pedagogy courses have become incredibly handy in my role as an instructional supervisor and program director. I use many of these strategies as I observe instructors and provide them with feedback, as I work with colleagues on curriculum revision and other projects, and as I work on college committees to advocate for ESL students on campus.
Joseph: I consider my pedagogy and classroom practices through the theoretical lenses I developed in WRD, which provide me both a theoretical anchor and a practical jumping off point for the work of engaging students in rhetoric in creative ways. I also often draw on the knowledge I gained in specific courses, such as Writing Center Theory, in conversations on improving student services on campus. Finally, WRD made me conversant with the scholarly discourse of my field—a framework that allows me to develop conference presentations and papers.
Any advice for current or prospective MA in WRD students who are interested in a similar career path?
Mitchell: Don’t wait until you’re done with the program to get involved in the field. Meet with administrators, observe classes, volunteer tutor. There are countless adult ESL and intensive English programs in the city, many of which are very accessible and often happy to let graduate students get involved. You’ll not only gain valuable experience, but who knows, maybe something will even turn into a job one day!
Joseph: First, while your degree will look impressive, community colleges will be especially focused on your engagement with their student population, so I strongly recommend doing a teaching internship and applying for any job you can get at City Colleges of Chicago or another community college. Also be prepared to work as an adjunct for a period of time, which is a challenge because the pay is so low. In a tough job market, the connections you create will be very helpful down the road. In addition, take advantage of the opportunities and connections offered by WRD. The more teaching experience you can get, the better. Work in the University Center for Writing-based Learning, do the Teaching Apprenticeship Program, and do an internship. Last, hold on to your teaching portfolio and put it online!