Why I Teach

Dawn Atkinson

Department Head Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences
Associate Professor

Dawn AtkinsonGreetings from beautiful and welcoming Butte, Montana. By way of introduction, I was recently appointed as interim Chair of the Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences Department at Montana Technological University and also proudly serve as campus Writing Director, a post I have held since fall 2017. A strong foundation in the humanities and social sciences helped prepare me for these opportunities: I earned B.A. degrees in English and History from the University of Montana (UM), an M.A. degree in Journalism from UM, and a Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics from Lancaster University in England. Prior to joining the Montana Tech faculty as a visiting writing instructor in fall 2014, I taught on the English for Academic Purposes Programme at Lancaster University and in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature at Taichung Healthcare and Management University (now Asia University) in Taiwan. I am now pleased to be part of the Montana Tech team, helping to encourage the continued achievements of the institution and its students.

As a writing instructor, I am often perplexed by the commonly held belief that skilled writers are extraordinary beings who pen sentences and paragraphs almost as if by magic when, in reality, proficient writing requires effort, care, time, resolve, and patience. As a result of this stubborn misperception, students may enter writing classes without a sense of their own roles as writers, an awareness of the importance of writing to their career aspirations, or a recognition of their capacity to produce effective text. This misunderstanding is what drives my efforts in the classroom because, after all, writing is a skill, and skills can be practiced and refined. Although expertise research undertaken in a wide variety of fields, including writing (Kellogg, 2018), has documented the very real work involved in skill building, common sense also tells us that humans do not exit the womb with the ability to compose text, and this is a message I strive to convey to students. In reality, professional writers—individuals who demonstrate writing aptitude and earn at least some of their living by applying their writing skills (Atkinson, 2020, p. 481)—work in all sorts of positions, including ones the students might be interested in; my efforts in the classroom thus center on dispelling a persistent myth about what it means to be a writer and on offering practical skill-building opportunities that contribute to the development of writing capability.

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