General Education Instructor
The Art Institute of Philadelphia
How you communicate is one of the first things people will judge you on. Mark Cofta , General Education Instructor , The Art Institute of Philadelphia
Was there a defining moment when you knew you were destined to become a creative professional?
There were many, because I have many creative interests. For teaching, I was inspired by a terrific high school English teacher who taught me that books are alive and interactive. Suddenly, serious reading became lively, not a chore. In theater, I discovered the joys of performing through school and community theater at an early age. But I reached a new level at a Royal Shakespeare Company performance of Twelfth Night, which astounded me with its beauty and relevance. Defining moments keep happening for me. Inspiration keeps insisting, and I try to pay attention.
How do you weave your professional background into the classroom experience?
Since I teach writing courses like English Composition, I often call upon my professional writing experience as a theater critic and arts reporter—particularly about the reality of deadlines and the importance of following guidelines like length and content limits. I tell students that I understand it’s not easy, but that the satisfaction of a job well done is worth the effort.
What class assignment exemplifies your approach to teaching and mentoring?
In Effective Speaking, the first major assignment is a demonstration speech. I provide basic guidelines, but designing, practicing, and performing the speech are up to the students. The biggest challenge is overcoming nervousness, which I coach them to work through or, as they say, "fake it 'till you make it."
In what way do you inspire students to push themselves beyond their own perceived limits?
Students write self-evaluation essays after giving their speeches in which they analyze written comments from the whole class. Usually they find that their audience liked the speech much more than they themselves did. It’s gratifying to see them discover for themselves that their nervousness matters less than they imagine, and that an audience will root for them to succeed, not look for weaknesses.
How does collaboration contribute to students’ success—particularly when students from various programs work together?
I strive for a collaboration in all my classes. The first step is arranging desks in a circle. Nobody can hide in the back, and everyone can see and hear each other. I assign small group projects to inspire the same kind of interaction they’ll find in the real world.
What’s the most important thing you impart to students to help them succeed in class and the real world?
You’ll always need to communicate in the real world. You must be able to write, read, speak, and listen. Developing communication skills is critical to your success.
What’s the most critical advice you would offer any student embarking on a creative career?
How you communicate is one of the first things people will judge you on. I've seen hiring committees reject written applications simply for writing errors in the cover letter and resume. If your writing is poor, you'll never get a chance to talk with someone in person.