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Instructor Spotlight: Barbara Gunn

English instructor Barbara Gunn says students often warn her as class begins that they ‘are not good writers’ or, that ‘they don’t like writing.’

Gunn said first, students do not realize that they are writing every day. They are just not necessarily putting their thoughts on paper.

“When I ask them to write a comparison paper, they’ve already made several comparisons by that time of the day. They do it all the time, every day,” she said explaining that when students choose between Cocoa Puffs or Cheerios for breakfast, or choose what time to set the alarm or pick their outfit for the day, they are essentially writing a comparison paper in their minds.

“I’ve just asked them to write it down,” she said. “It’s great to see the lightbulbs go off when they realize that.”

Gunn said her English course is not just about learning to write, it’s about learning to deliver your message.

“When you grasp that, this world is literally in the palm of your hand,” she said. “When you become that effective communicator, now you can deliver that message and be respected and have credibility and people look at you differently.”

She said most students say they cannot write because they have been told early on that they do not write well. That notion sticks with them and by the time they reach college, they believe it.

Part of understanding writing, Gunn said, is to understand that we write or speak differently with various groups of people and in various situations.

“Look at your audience and keep in mind what words you need to use to reach those people,” Gunn said. “In other classes they were told their writing was wrong but they haven’t been shown how to change their writing and their communication.

“Do you speak differently to your mom and girlfriend,” she said. “We speak differently in situations in all parts of our lives so we need to know when to adjust and what words to use and I think that scares students when they write.”

After initially enrolling in Bryant & Stratton’s now defunct fashion merchandising program at age 17, Gunn said she came close to graduating. But life tugged at her time and her priorities and she left her studies behind.

Decades later she returned and earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

“I tell my students, ‘I know what it’s like to sit where you are sitting. I’ve been there’,” she said.

In fact, Gunn still has some of her textbooks sitting on her shelves.

Her experiences in the classroom changed her life, again. After decades of working in sales and marketing, Gunn realized she never wanted to leave academia. A year after earning her master’s in English she returned again, this time, to teach.

Her goal, Gunn said, is to help students better communicate in class, in their future workplaces and at home.

“We need to be able to articulate our message whatever that is, verbally and non-verbally. Students need to understand how to do that effectively and when I get them they’re missing that,” she said. “My passion to get them to the place where they will be able to craft that message that will make their point to the audience.”

Gunn said she focuses on teaching her class as a community.

“Everyone has a voice that everyone can learn from,” she said. “I’ll learn from you, you learn from me and we’ll all learn from each other.”

In order to become better communicators, Gunn said her students must also become better listeners. She spends a few minutes in each class giving her students latitude to discuss items not on the day’s agenda.

“As we express our interests we begin to bond and it helps the group become more cohesive,” she said. “It drives me nuts that they don’t know each other’s names. You need each other.”

 

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