Community Writing Assistance (CWA) is the community outreach branch of the UW-Madison Writing Center. Teaching at seven different locations around Madison, from public libraries to our local Urban League Building to neighborhood community centers, CWA instructors provide free, drop-in help with writing of all kinds to writers from all walks of life. In this post, CWA instructor Stephanie White reflects on what she finds most meaningful about teaching in this program.
Sometimes people ask what a typical CWA shift is like. I’ve found that there’s no such thing. During my shift on Monday afternoons at Madison Public Library’s Central branch, one patron might want to learn more about Microsoft Word, the next might need me to look over her resume for an art professor position, and the last might ask me to explain what a computer is. During my shifts at Pinney this summer, I got a lot of patrons who wanted to set up email accounts, a lot of patrons who wanted to set up job search accounts, and some who wanted to set up Linked In accounts. When I take shifts at Hawthorne or Meadowood or the Urban League, I get many patrons who are committed to learning how to use a computer because they see that their world is changing, and they want to keep up. And I also get many patrons who haven’t had a job interview in months, and who are committed to persisting anyway. Many come faithfully as long as we have space for them, and, through our sessions, they advance their computer skills or find jobs. The point is, wherever I’m working, my patrons keep me on my toes, since I have to be ready to meet them where they are.
But I also have to be on my toes because these patrons are doing an extraordinary thing by coming to our sessions. Sometimes I feel like this is the dirty, nitty-gritty side of writing instruction—the side that forces me to remember that writing and computer skills aren’t just for school assignments, but can contribute to my patrons’ livelihoods. But, through the relationships we build as we work together, I hope my patrons and I also contribute to each other’s lives, by making them fuller.