What follows is a descriptive essay such as my students are asked to write for the Desc assignment in the Fall 2016 term at Schreiner University. As is expected of student work, it treats a specific room that has emotional valence for the author. It also adheres to the length requirements expressed to students; they are asked for approximately 975 words exclusive of heading, title, page numbers, and any necessary Works Cited entries, and the essay below is 979, assessed by those standards. (Although it makes some use of outside materials, such is neither required nor expected of students in the class in their own descriptive essays. Any deployed, however, must be cited fittingly, as noted here.) Its formatting will necessarily differ from student submissions due to the differing medium. How the medium influences reading is something well worth considering as a classroom discussion, particularly for those students who are going into particularly writing- or design-intensive fields.
I entertain an idea of myself as a professional, and part of that professional identity inheres in the space wherein I work. I have spoken to it before, to be sure; both an informal essay I wrote for past students–“Sample Profile: Morrill 411”–and a vignette published in College Composition and Communication–“Where Writes Me”–treat environments in which I have done the work of scholarship, both research and teaching. As I write now, I am working two separate teaching jobs. One of them is at a for-profit school in San Antonio; the other is at Schreiner University, where I am assigned an office: Weir 209. I am still working to complete it, and as I do, I am trying to build it up as an extension of the kind of instructor I want to be at the institution, one whom students can approach and whom they have reason to approach.
In itself, the room is not necessarily remarkable. Physically, it measures perhaps 12 feet deep and 15 across, with what looks to be a ten-foot ceiling. The walls are painted a flat brownish color, a few shades darker than the Cosmic Latte deemed to be the average color of the universe, and a single fluorescent tube bulb shows it off poorly. At present, a side-table flanks the one desk (carrying the standard-issue phone and computer) in the room, guarding it from the door; a file cabinet and bookcase inherited from other office-dwellers stand opposite, a gray chair for the occasional visitor beside them. The bookcase is not yet full, and the walls are barer yet; it is clear that the office is a work in progress. Yet that clarity reveals something that is true for all of us. We should all be works in progress; certainly those who are still studying have to view themselves as not yet done. And because they are not yet done, the fact that I am not yet done–and I cannot be, since my office, festooned with boxes and with bare walls, is not done–should make it easier for folks to come and talk to me. I am where they are in some senses, at least, and that kind of fellow-feeling ought to help.
The decor that slowly proceeds out into my office also builds up fellow-feeling by showing my visitors something of who and what I am other than an instructor in the classroom. To be sure, I invest heavily in my professional identity, and I try to be authentically myself at the front of the classroom (although there are many things I tone down when I am in front of students, particularly those with less experience). Even so, I have made a point to have out on my desk mementos from my time in my discipline’s honor society: a bookmark with the logo and colors, programs from events that stand out in mind. Too, some souvenirs from a trip abroad have found their way out onto my shelves, although the may not present themselves prominently. I suppose they come out as a kind of Easter egg, a little thing that rewards those who look carefully with additional insight. I know that I value such things; their prevalence in popular culture suggests that many others value such things, as well, and the display of coincident values joins my display of self in welcoming others.
As my office furnishings build, more and more of my scholarly apparatus emerges from cardboard boxes to line my walls and bookshelves. I admit that the symbols are somewhat fraught, certainly; much of “Where Writes Me” is directed to that end. But one of the things I know they convey, one of the things I know comes across to students and visitors when they come in and see more and more journals and binders filled with teaching tips and exercises and my own notes from classes long since taken, is that there are answers to be found. More, the fact that I have such things on my shelves, with more coming to rest on them over time, says to those students who come in to see me that I have ready access to those answers. When they open the pages of my scholarly journals and teaching textbooks and see the many annotations made upon them–since I write on most every book and journal that comes to me–they see, too, that I have searched through them to find my answers. Not only are there answers to be found, then, and not only do I have access to them, I have found many of them, and I have left signs so that I can find them again–or lead others to them. If it remains the case that higher education exists at least in part as a means for seekers to find paths to knowledge, then my office, to some extent now and more as I manage to move more fully into it, offers students a way to do the thing that they set out to do by being students. They have a reason to visit it and to visit me in it, as I would have matters be.
There is more for me to do in Weir 209, to be sure. I am not fully moved into it; so long as I remain at Schreiner and remain committed to the idea that I need to be better so that my students can be better yet–and I am–I will not be. There is always more to bring in, always more that would be good to have ready to hand. But for now, the facts that I am building and that I have built already what I have there to fill out the room do much to show students they are welcome and they will find help. I am happy that both are true.
- Elliott, Geoffrey B. “Sample Profile: Morrill 411.” Geoffrey B. Elliott’s Teaching Blog, 5 February 2014, http://gelliottteaching.blogspot.com/2014/02/sample-profile-morrill-411.html.
- —. “Where Writes Me.” CCC, vol. 66, no. 2, December 2014, pp. 247-49.