San Jacinto College English professor, Tria Wood, challenges her students to think and write creatively by exposing them to various contemporary writers and writing activities that push them out of their comfort zone, inviting them to take chances and make new connections. Photo submitted.
San Jacinto College faculty spotlight on Tria Wood: Working with words
Andrea Vasquez-- September 5, 2012
Q: What courses do you teach and how long have you been with San Jacinto College?
A: I teach freshman composition and literature, sophomore literature and creative writing, and this semester I’m teaching an Honors section of freshman composition as well as a course in film and literature. I’ve been with the College since Fall of 2009 as an adjunct and became full-time faculty in Fall of 2010. I am obsessed with words, reading, and writing—and I am thrilled that I get to work in the world of words every day!
Q: Why did you decide to teach? Was it always a passion you had or did you fall into it somehow?
A: Both of my parents are teachers, so I grew up thinking and talking about education almost daily. When I started working on my Bachelor of Arts, I thought I would teach at the high school level, but what I really wanted to do was to become a writer. Along the way, I learned that many professional writers—at least, of the literary sort—don’t make much of a living from their writing, and instead make ends meet by teaching at the college level. That meant getting at least a master’s degree, so I made it my goal to go to graduate school. I had to work odd jobs, and there were times when I wasn’t sure how I was going to pay the rent, but it was worth it! Graduate school gave me time to focus on learning how to be a better writer and how to be a good teacher.
Q: Communication skills are always an asset, both in and out of the classroom. As an English professor, how do you emphasize the overall importance of writing skills to your students?
A: Effective communication skills—including writing skills—are extremely important to today’s employers, and they set you apart as a professional. When students can master language, they’re able to do just about anything else they can set their minds to.
Q: Writing papers is a huge part of the college experience, in almost all subject areas. How do you help students learn to overcome writer’s block?
A: Writer’s block is usually rooted in fear and/or lack of routine. Creating the habit of writing is the best solution. You have to be okay with writing a lot of crummy stuff to get that little bit of good stuff out. This is true even for professional writers! Once you get into the habit of sitting down and making yourself write, before long your brain will get into the habit, and you’ll find that the process gets easier and easier.
Q: What is your approach to getting your students engaged in the writing process?
A: I think you have to read many different kinds of writing in several different subject areas. I help my students with this—especially my creative writing students—by showing them the different kinds of writing that are out there, examining what various contemporary writers are doing, and guiding them through different activities that push them out of their comfort zone and invite them to take chances and make new connections.
Q: What would you say is a common misconception of creative writing?
A: I think that one very common misconception is that you have to be born a writer, or that you have to be a certain kind of person—usually, a weird, flighty, or depressed person—to be a writer. Any sort of person can become a writer, and at any age. Writing is kind of like bowling or playing poker; practice it enough, and you get better and better at it. Certain talents, like being a whiz at noticing patterns and make connections, can help you be better at creative writing earlier in life, and certainly not everyone is going to be able to do it professionally. I firmly believe that if you have the discipline to develop the skills, you can be a good creative writer.
Q: At the end of the day, what do you hope your students take away from your class, and in turn, what do you personally take away from them?
A: I hope that my students take away the writing and thinking skills they’ll need to be successful in college and on the job. I want them to be able to think like scholars, to be engaged with the world around them, and to be able to figure out how to make a difference in the world. Personally, I enjoy hearing their perspectives, watching them figure things out, and helping them find their voices. Words are how we connect with others and how we create our world views. For me, the most rewarding part of teaching is helping students harness the power of words to express themselves and to create opportunities for themselves.
Q: Finally, what are a few fun things students and colleagues may not know about you?
A: This summer, I was the featured poet at the Emerald Isle Writing Conference in Kodiak, Alaska. I spent several days teaching creative writing workshops for children and adults, and it was a fantastic experience! I’ve also spent the last eight years working with the Writers in the Schools program, where I teach children from kindergarten on up to become creative writers. Most people know I’m a published writer, but not everyone knows that I used to be in an improv comedy troupe here in Houston! I even took a two-week improvisational acting workshop at Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York City, taught by professional comedians. I fully admit to being the least funny member of that comedy troupe (the funniest member was Erin Gibson, a comedian who now writes, directs, and acts for Funny or Die among other things), but I learned a lot from the experience. Getting up on a stage with no idea of what I was going to say, or what character I’d be playing, taught me confidence and creativity. Even though I no longer perform, the skills I learned on stage are a big part of what I bring to the classroom every day.
About San Jacinto College
Surrounded by monuments of history, industries and maritime enterprises of today, and the space age of tomorrow, San Jacinto College has been serving the citizens of East Harris County, Texas, for more than 50 years. The Achieving the Dream Leader College is committed to the goals and aspirations of a diverse population of 30,000 students in more than 200 degree and certificate options, including university transfer and career preparation. Students also benefit from the College’s job training programs, renowned for meeting the needs of growing industries in the region. San Jacinto College graduates contribute nearly $630 million each year to the Texas workforce. San Jacinto College. Your Goals. Your College.
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