This spring I will teach a 10-week Spanish for the professions course. It will be a special section of an intermediate course consisting of three elements:
1) Keep up with the vocabulary and grammar content of the other sections of the course so students are as prepared for the next courses as their peers in other sections.
2) Add profession-specific content (a research project and a course-long inquiry into content of specific interest to each student).
3) Professional skills that all employees need in every workplace.
This third element is the topic of the series of posts I’ll be doing this spring because these are skills that can be integrated into any course at any level. Throughout the 10 weeks, I will post specific examples of how I’m weaving professional skills into the course as I teach it.
Week 1 starts tomorrow and the professional skill for the first week is networking.
On the first day of class, students will exchange contact information with at least 3 other students.
First, I will model using my own contact information and train students to ask specific questions to take control of the conversation (“how do you spell that?” “is that with an ‘f’ or a ‘ph’?” “one digit at a time please.” “I’ll repeat that back to you; is this correct…?” ). Global requests for repetition (“Repeat,” “What?” “Slower, please.”) are forbidden.
Once students have applied these skills to exchange new and authentic information (the basis of communicative language teaching that we can and should use at all levels), I will briefly explain the utility of the information they have for the administration of the course: their own peers should be the first line of inquiry for any questions they have about the course (homework assignments, due dates, content covered in class etc.–information that is often available in course documents anyway).
The rationale is both practical (I am not awake at the times of day these questions usually arise) and professional (employers will want new hires who can independently solve little problems and make minor decisions, which is what these administrative questions about the course usually are).
I am clear with students: if you send me an email, I will reply with one word: “yes,” “no,” “got it,” “done!” “thanks.” And any correspondence sent in the middle of the night won’t get a reply before class the next day anyway. This significantly cuts down on the kind of email that we all regard as clutter in our inboxes. Of course, I engage in some substantive discussions with students over email or make appointments to do so face-to-face over email.
And most courses have one student who, in the first 24-hours of the course, sends 2-3 email queries about content covered in class and/or course documents. At the second meeting, I quietly take that student aside after class and repeat the policy and the rationale, using their email queries as specific examples, illustrating where and how they could have gotten that information on their own. Often, these students wind up being top students in the course who were just overly nervous and/or eager the first day.
On the second day of class, students get in pairs and chat until they find something new that they have in common. This is a real networking session. Those commonalities are what networking is all about: long-term, sustained (if periodic) contact in which you can share tips, leads, articles, links, job postings, events, conferences so that ultimately you wind up doing favors for each other (but it is always mutual and never just about asking favors).
After 5-10 minutes, groups of four are formed by putting two pairs together and two people in each group have to introduce their partner to the others. This is an essential networking skill that most young Americans are sheepish and awkward about doing. They should practice enough in the low stakes environment of my course that the Spanish-language fixed expression for “I’d like to introduce you to ____” is second nature–which means they will really excel in their first languages at job fairs, networking events and interviews.
On the third day of class, students in the professions course will form groups based on their areas of professional interest. Each group will be asked to report back on the areas of common interest and where they differ in their career goals and areas of specialization. This activity is the beginning of course-long networking in which students will share content of interest that they encounter while preparing their individual reading & blogging assignments or research projects. It should become second nature to send a message to a classmate that says, “when I was reading about X on this site, I saw this headline: ____ and thought of you; maybe you can use it for one of your entries.”
To conclude this unit on networking, I ask students to reflect on who might be their go to networking contacts: is it parents of their friends? their friends’ parents? employers they’ve had?
Next week’s topic: gatekeeper (in the form of taking messages).
Darcy Lear is a career coach specializing in academic writing, job search documents, professional school applications, and interview preparation. She is the author of the forthcoming volume from Georgetown University Press, “Integrating Career Preparation into Language Courses.” To schedule a campus workshop or for help navigating your career transition, contact Darcy: firstname.lastname@example.org