Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Transnational Writing Program Administration

If you've been in any class with me since Jackie's Feminism and Composition class then you've probably heard this spiel before. After doing a lot of reading on the internationalization of composition and now transnational writing program administration, I'm pretty convinced that we as a field have to develop some new frameworks to incorporate international contributions better. The framework work we have now has created a an isolated community of composition scholars that work toward internationalization by exporting their ideas to the rest of the writing community. We already have this practice of basing most of our work on a local to global ideology. The problem is that what we are doing is not truly global. The framework we have developed for writing programs and writing studies has allowed us to create an isolationist  narrative that keeps our research and our scholarship focused on and circulated within the United States. Instead we need to look outside of United States to help us gain a more diverse perspective on writing studies, research, and pedagogy. 

My solution to this has been to borrow some of the frameworks that transnational feminism has already developed. In his book, Don't Think of an Elephant, George Lakoff discusses the length of time it takes to create new frameworks within a culture. I figured that instead of building a new framework from the ground up, we can speed up the process by borrowing a framework from transnational feminism, which has already had some success in developing a global network. Feminism and composition have grown up alongside one another and have had similar paths during the development of their respective fields. This makes transnational feminism a great place to look for a new framework.

What do you guys think? What could be some frameworks that we could use to change up our perspective on global writing studies?

Cs Statement on Second Language Writing and Writers and the Presidential Primaries

As I read through the Cs position statement on "Second Language Writing and Writers" I couldn't help but think of the ongoing Presidential Primaries. Of course, my immediate thoughts were centered on the hate speech used towards immigrants and refugees. By now I'm sure you've heard Trump's catch phrase "I'll build a wall and Mexico is going to pay for it." I don't want to use this space to just bash Trump, so let me get to the point-- I have been hearing all this racist rhetoric, but what I haven't been hearing is a response.

To be more specific, the Cs position statement asks writing instructors and writing program administrators to "Recognize and take responsibility for the regular presence of second language writers in writing classes, to understand their characteristics, and to develop instructional and administrative practices that are sensitive to their linguistic and cultural needs." How can we do this if we, as a program, remain silent or stand-offish about what is occurring in our political system? Students will come in to our classrooms feeling unwanted and maybe having experienced some form of racism, which may negatively impact their learning experience.

In our previous classes, we discussed that there are institutional silences. Lately, I have felt like this has been one of them. I have found it very strange that out of three classes that I am taking this semester that politics rarely gets brought up.

Basically what I want to emphasize is if we want students to think that we value them and their language(s), we have to address the elephant in the room.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Noise?




My song to represent WC Administration: https://youtu.be/R80JG-n2Bzs 

Beth Boquet, at times, has me buying in to her noise metaphor. For example, when she discusses the disgruntled email from PC, I bought into her analogy regarding the effects the letter had on her understanding of writing center work—effects of distortion, of reverb, of disruption. Too, I thought the Jimi Hendrix analogy was effective for representing the idea of risk, play, and noise. In these examples, I thought the metaphor was clear and strong. In other parts, however, I wanted her to explain and analyze more fully the application of the noise metaphor. After talking with Morgan about the book (she was able to read Noise in its entirety), I learned that Boquet repeats this in other sections of the book: under analyzed, underexplored assertions and reflections. I would be interested in seeing how the rest of the book plays out: what are her overall arguments about this metaphor? Does she address the limitations of this metaphor?

What do you all think about the metaphor?


Questions Posed

I have a few questions for us to consider embedded in my slideshow document for class discussion today, but here are some more to get us thinking about writing center issues in the context of this WPA class.

  • Is it appropriate to say that a "trickster" or "noisy" ideology influences your approach to administrative work when you're on the job market, or is that something you keep to yourself until after you've been hired? If it is acceptable in the field, is it still subversive to the institution? 
  • What responsibility does a writing center have to a WAC program, and vice versa? 
  • What does Boquet's writing style and research methods suggest about how the field of writing center studies has changed since 2002? What are your thoughts on that progression of the scholarship? 
  • What is your response to Boquet's argument that directors should encourage writing center tutors to be exceptional, even if it means failing at times, rather than "institutionally competent"? Is it reasonable for WPAs to ask the same of TAs? Of TAs to ask the same of student writers?
  • What's your stance about the way in which assessment aiming to justify the writing center to upper administration should be crafted? (Boquet and Harris have very different opinions on this.) 
Looking forward to responses and discussion! 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Trickster Envy


As I was reading “Trickster at Your Table,” I was particularly interested in the tension that seems to exist between two epistemological theories — one that encourages the “trickster” moments that are unpredictable and nonlinear and one that adheres to traditional, structured forms of instruction. I realize the article wasn’t polarizing these two perspectives as mutually exclusive, but it did make me think about whether upper administrators – who seem to value efficiency, cost-effectiveness, clear data, etc. – would support the trickster approach.
I’m actually extremely interested in the idea of “play” and how low-stakes games and opportunities for students to truly experiment can generate new ideas, connections, and a renewed sense of curiosity. I just went to a writing conference this past weekend in which one of the speakers was talking about angles of a story and the importance of learning to write about age-old topics in new and fresh ways. She said that studies have been done that indicate how much more receptive people are when they are presented with information in new and different ways and that they are more likely to remember the content because of it. The logic goes like this: We are more likely to remember information when dopamine is released in response to certain stimuli, and our brains are more likely to release dopamine when we are presented with information that extends beyond familiar concepts and methods of delivery. However, when information seems too familiar, then we are less likely to engage with or remember the content.
I think that this relates to the “trickster” moments that are described in this chapter and the idea of helping students explore familiar concepts in new ways to enhance learning and forge new connections. It makes a lot of sense to me that this process isn’t linear, clear-cut, or predictable, which I think is more in line with how learning actually happens, but I also think there is an underlying premise within the university that learning should be controlled, organized, and predictable. We always have to name our course objectives and make clear steps toward those objectives, and as much as professors might try to cater to different learning styles, it often isn’t possible in large class settings, particularly considering the constraints of time and space. And the students themselves are often too caught up in concerns of their course grades and overall GPAs to engage with more chaotic, nontraditional activities that might (or might not) enhance learning.
I was actually just talking with some of my students the other day who are feeling stressed out about the projects that they have coming due in the next few weeks, and why they are feelings so stressed. Even though some of the projects they are working on seem interesting and certainly have the potential for exploration and creative application, my students don’t see it that way. There are too many things to do in too little time, and they are worried about getting the best grade possible. So, they don’t explore or engage in the process of trial and error.
My overall point is that although I am very interested in finding ways that will really make learning engaging and new by engaging students in the chaos and unpredictability that accompanies true learning, I’m questioning the practicality within the built-in structures of the university. What are some ways that a writing center can meaningfully and intentionally engage in “trickster” teaching methods alongside more traditional approaches? What are the challenges that they might face in terms of resistance from administrators (who value order, cost-effectiveness, and hard data) and the students themselves (who value GPAs and efficiency)?
Geller, et al. say this about the value of trickster approaches: “It is learning to unlearn, learning to be flexible in the face of newness, and learning deep listening that is hard. At those moments, we come to see that staff education practices that welcome a Trickster state of mind are even more important than we thought” (21). I completely agree, though I’m not sure that students, upper-administrators, and other various constituents hold these same values.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

WP Budgets and Sisyphus



I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one's burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.--Albert Camus

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Professional Issues: Can I haz tenure, please?



In addition to these texts we’ve read this week, I’ve run across other scholarship about administration (for both writing centers and writing programs) discussing the issue of administrative work and how to couch that admin work as scholarly (in terms of P&T). In K. B. Yancey and M. Morgan’s “Reflective Essays, Curriculum, and the Scholarship of Administration: Notes Toward Administrative Scholarly Work”, I saw an excellent example of how an administrator can situate their admin work as evidence of scholarly work. Their chapter argues that because scholarship is the production of new knowledge, inquiry about curricular design that leads to curricular redesign can be considered new knowledge, hence a kind of scholarship. 

Similarly, J. Gunner discusses “Professional Advancement of the WPA: Rhetoric and Politics in Tenure and Promotion,” and she highlights, too, the difficulty WPAs face during P&T when they have to present evidence of teaching and research. In distinguishing between Yancey and Morgan’s and Gunner’s pieces, Gunner presents concrete, specific advice for pre-junior faculty while Yancey and Morgan justify theoretically why admin work is scholarly. While I thought Yancey and Morgan’s thorough example of their curricular redesign was concrete and I could see how they would be able to represent their work as scholarly, I appreciated more so Gunner’s advice that the “tenure process really begins at the point of hire” (p. 317), as well as her numbered list of ten actions to take as a new WPA. I can imagine that new PhDs applying for jobs are grateful that anyone even hired them and that salary numbers are exponentially higher than GA stipends, thus making it awkward or difficult to negotiate or sort out the details such as P&T expectations. 

Along those same lines of concrete and specific advice, the CWPA’s statement on evaluating the work of writing program administration is useful for WPAs in terms of providing a framework for representing their work. I thought, however, that the document could have been clearer in distinguishing among their points: 1) the work of a WPA, 2) the guidelines for knowing that the work is intellectual, and 3) the criteria for evaluating that work. Sometimes the authors’ discussion of these things overlapped to the point of confusion. 

One point/question I have for you all is this:
In my research about writing center assessment, I have read and heard from WCPs about the challenge of making their assessment work public (among many other challenges). I found Yancey and Morgan’s chapter as an excellent example of assessment: their primary goal was to improve the first-year composition curriculum, and as Huot argues, assessment’s primary concern is improving teaching and learning. So, how does assessment translate into scholarly/intellectual work?

Additionally, what do you think about the process of tenure and promotion? Is it outdated and irrelevant? What are other options? What about the issue of digital publications and tenure?

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Coming to (Believe in) a Common Ground

I think a lot of the articles we have read for this class have been getting at a similar idea, in one way or another. Here's the gist of it: Writing program work is tricky, and sometimes frustrating, because of the competing agendas of all the players and stakeholders. Writing programs are situated in the middle of a big web, and they can't function without a recognition of the connections that have constructed that web. The field of writing studies, community business leaders, upper administration in various branches of the academic institution, composition instructors, and students all have an impact on the development of a writing program. A WPA needs to be able to see those pieces and act appropriately within the context, and--here's the important part--they need to be able to communicate effectively with this wide audience in mind in order to get good work done.

I have been somewhat resistant to the idea that WPAs would need to compromise what they know and value, professionally speaking, in order to appeal to an audience of upper administrators. Why do we need to prove that composition classes should be smaller when our entire field recognizes that as truth, for example? Why do we have to couch a request or a report in admin. lingo, when that lingo is, at times, counterproductive to the field's way of knowing? But Mirtz and Cullen's piece, "Beyond Postmodernism," gave me a new understanding of this reoccurring idea that, yes, sometimes we have to compromise, and, also, it might not be terrible.

Mirtz and Cullen promote a Rogerian style of leadership in WPA work. As a fan of Rogerian argument, this just makes sense to me. They explain, "Rogerian leadership focuses on leading by listening, learning, and finding common ground" and "leading is about persuading" (97). From this perspective, leadership is like a good rhetorical argument in that it necessitates an understanding of the bigger picture, it attends to competing perspectives, and it sets forth a plan that values the ecology of the situation and privileges the whole rather than just a piece of the whole. Previously I've been able to understand this idea clearly on a small scale in that I value collaborative work within a writing program. Now, I see more clearly the reason for extending that sense of collaboration beyond the writing program into the community and institution so that all the strings of the web are working together, negotiating and compromising, to make things happen in/for the writing program.

So this post isn't about a new idea. It's just about me finally being able to come to terms (<3 that Roger) with an older idea that I had been stubbornly resisting. Where are you guys currently sitting in this debate of whose voice should be the loudest in the writing program? Has your perspective changed over time? Which readings have informed that perspective?

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Postmodernist leadership

Thinking about WPA work in terms of postmodernism with this week's readings brought a mix of skepticism and hopefulness to me. Tim Peeples writes, "The postmodern, flattened organization (even if still but an imagined or partial organizational form) attempts to 'address' and even take advantages of the richness of competing interests by, for instance, organizing diverse groups around interdisciplinary problems and projects" (120). This notion of flattening organizational structures is an important one for postmodernism. Relatedly, Sharon James McGee and Carolyn Handa note that postmodernism's tendency to question hierarchy and reject "grand narratives" has not been thoroughly explored in WPA work (2). 

In challenging hierarchy and attempting flattened organizational structures, however, the fact remains that academia is inherently hierarchical in its current structure. English departments are hierarchical as well in terms of salaries paid to instructors and the ranking systems involved in tenure and promotion. In thinking about postmodernism in Writing Programs, it would be naive to overlook the fact that there are major differences in pay within departments; a TA will inevitably make far less than a tenured professor; a full-time contract faculty member will also earn considerably less than a tenured professor. The amount of pay that an instructor toward the bottom of the pay structure receives can influence how he or she conceptualizes his or her value and influence in the department, regardless of the efforts a WPA makes to "flatten" hierarchies socially or otherwise. 
As many authors have suggested in WPA research, and as we have discussed in class, it is absolutely crucial in writing programs to fight for fair wages for TAs and adjunct/contract faculty. McGee and Handa write, "Fostering participation among faculty, administration, and graduate students keeps the WPA from being an administrator in the modernist sense--a hierarchical dogmatist--instead of becoming a postmodern facilitator who clears space for and values the input of others" (9). In order to foster participation, fostering fair wages is necessary, too, because instructors are less likely to feel their input is of real value if they are not adequately compensated monetarily. 

 In thinking about the WPA position specifically, it is a leadership role that involves holding power in an English department, and this holding of power is unavoidable. The question is not whether a WPA should or should not exercise power because he or she inevitably will need to. The question is what the WPA does with the power he or she holds. McGee and Handa note that postmodern WPAs can feel tension in administrative positions that are typically at the top of hierarchies while they also work to create collaboration in their programs (7). The paradoxical benefit of being at the top of a hierarchy is being able to use it to afford others power as well. The reality of holding power in the first place as a WPA should not be ignored, but I do see the potential for WPAs fostering more postmodern programs if they make an effort to share power and wield the power they do have fairly. 

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Theorizing

Since we may or may not get back to the topic of creating theories I wanted to pose some of the questions I had from Rose and Weiser's article.


  • How do we make our theories seem concrete instead of just an imagining of what we think should happen?
  • How do we need to verify/support/prove a theory in humanities with empirical research?
  • If we don't then what do we use to verify/support/prove our theory?
  • How can we make people believe/see that our theories are good theories? What do we need to provide them with? 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Weiser and Rose' "Theorizing," Hemmeter's "Phenomenological Communities," and the Burkean Parlour

In Tom Hemmeter's "WPs as Phenomenological Communities," he argues that theorizing is problematic because it turns the physical world into cold abstraction, attempting to take social constructs out of reality and categorize them, as though one could actually take anything out of its living, breathing, real-world environment. He fights for community, and criticizes how we tend to work alone in our heads, theorizing but never really doing anything. In my 605 class, my almost entirely creative writing cohort tends to criticize academics for not affecting real change out in the world. When we discussed the concept of the Burkean Parlour (the idea of coming into a parlor where multiple conversations are happening, sitting in and listening, and responding to it, only to eventually leave the parlor with an understanding that the conversation marches on), several students agreed that this is exactly what is wrong with academia--we have these conversations in closed circles where there is little real world agency. 

For me, the Burkean Parlour is a threshold concept for the ultimate collective, collaborative pursuit of knowledge, and it warms me to my core. It makes me feel like I am part of something bigger than myself, and gives me strength to continue to work. This is not for me, I remind myself, but for our collective efforts. Our pursuit of knowledge, and our ongoing debates about what that means, is the greatest ongoing dialectical debate of all time. I am able to study rhet/comp the way I am because of many great scholars before me, and I hope to contribute to future scholars/students/humans in similar ways. 

Rose and Weiser's "Theorizing Writing Program Theorizing" finds common ground between the apparent academic binary of theory vs practice by first explaining its classist origins, and then arguing for a more collaborative and practical relationship between theory and practice. In outlining this binary's classist origins, they note how the upper class have always had the luxury of being able to sit around and 'think' rather than 'do'. Those who 'do' do so out of necessity. They are the working class, and must 'do' in order to survive. This extends into academia, which has long been a space for the privileged, who have the luxury of sitting around 'thinking' rather than 'doing'. This binary has been challenged several times in academia, but still stands strong in many ways. Within academia, there are those who are tasked with 'doing' more than 'thinking'--such workers can be called service workers. The WPA falls into service work. 

Rose and Weiser convincingly argue for a take on theory that is grounded in practice. They argue that theory should not be understood as a high brow activity with little to no application. Rather, theory "helps us understand the problems, situations, and contexts of our work, thus positioning us to make decisions and take actions based on a richer understanding of their implications" (189). Pairing this with Hemmeter's criticisms of theory helps us to understand theory as intertwined with community and collective observation rather than contributing to individuals neglecting such work. If theory seeks to explain situations via collective observation and discussion, then why do so many, such as those creative writers in my cohort, see theory and theorizing as problematic? I think it is because many fail to see theory as inherently emerging from practice, community, and conversation. We need to constantly remind ourselves of the WPA mantra: "experience into information, information into knowledge, knowledge into judgment, judgment into action" (class notes). This is certainly applicable to the WPA position, but it should be more widespread. The theorizing that we do inside of "the walls of academia" can extend out of those walls when we base our exigence for theorizing in our real world experiences, as the above mantra suggests. 

Rose and Weiser's work, not just in this chapter, but throughout both WPA as theorist and WPA as researcher, functions primarily on the WPA level. Bringing theory and theorizing into the WPA position not only serves to legitimize the work we do, but it provides a means for progress. We create our own Burkean Parlour, and in so doing are able to build on our collective knowledge. This notion of theory and theorizing----that it is something we do by tapping into our collective daily experiences in order to better serve our daily practices--helps us remember why we theorize. We aren't doing it for tenure, or to get paid more, or because we are more interested in our own theories than are real world responsibilities, or because we are grossly self-infatuated, but for the sake of collective knowledge building--something we believe to be very important, and very applicable to the work we do. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Giving Tree and Revisiting Traditions

Have any of you read Shel Silverstein's book The Giving Tree? I didn't understand it at all in the first grade. Why would the tree be happy about giving everything it had to the boy? I thought it was pretty depressing. Even when I understand it now, I still think it is depressing.

I guess it is supposed to be about the relationship between a parent and a child, but I think it could easily symbolize the relationship an academic has with the university.

Today in Writing in the Profession, we discussed how some traditional ways and genres of the university should be revisited, such as the dissertation. We also thought about how graduate school can act as gatekeeping devices, so that only students that can actually do real academic work can make it through.

If you've read The Giving Tree you know how it ends. My point is maybe we should do more than just revisit some of our traditions. Maybe we should revisit what it means to be an academic, especially in our field where the emphasis is placed on service.


Feminist Writing Program Administration and Its Effects on Authority, Power, and Influence

                As I read the articles about taking feminist approaches to writing program administration, I kept thinking back to Shirley K Rose, Lisa S. Mastrangelo, and Barbara L’Eplattenier’s “Directing First-Year Writing: The New Limits of Authority.” Since I already posted about that particular article, I will try not to repeat myself. But I think it’s impossible to talk about feminism and writing program administration without returning to the issues of authority, power, and influence. In Hildy Miller’s essay “Postmasculinist Directions in Writing Program Administration,” she reminds readers that WPAs often struggle for the power to make decisions about the program. They “feel a sense of powerlessness, more specifically, a sense of having enormous responsibilities” without accompanying power” (80). Power for feminist administrators means being able to enable others and thus, they might focus more on “being peer” rather than having “power over” (Schaef qtd. in Miller 81). There are consequences for emphasizing collaboration or “being peer.” As Miller points out later in the essay, others might view the WPA as not a leader or not assertive enough if they do not direct conversations and meetings with more of an authoritative manner. One of the participants in Rose et al.’s study stated that she was seen as the one responsible for the everyday decision making but that when stakes were higher, people thought decisions should go to a committee. This reminds us that even our colleagues may not respond well to our administrative styles when they do not conform to what is traditionally viewed as leadership.

            I’m interested in the ways WPAs have been received within our program when they have emphasized collaboration or have asked for input from people in positions with very little power (such as TAs). It seems as though BSU incorporates some of the feminist elements of writing program administration that Miller suggests. There is collaboration among many instructors to share teaching materials. We have a mentorship program that (in theory and hopefully in practice for the most part) focuses on support and not supervision. Our new TA pedagogy course is taught by the director of the writing program but it also includes voices of other TAs like Mary and Morgan. I am interested in what everyone else has to say about the way we can blend masculine and feminine administration strategies. What do we normally see as feminine and masculine? What does this blended practice look like? Do WPAs ever use completely masculine or completely feminine approaches? What are the strengths/weaknesses of using a blended approach? In what ways do these approaches relate to the authority, power, and/or influence the WPA has within the program, department, and institution?

Sunday, March 13, 2016

"Mo Money, Mo Problems" - A. Rich Person

Kinkead and Simpson encourage WPAs to "educate [themselves] about budget lines and the rules regarding them" as one strategy for communicating effectively with other administrators (72). Anson offers, in his article, advice about creating maps to better understand and illustrate complicated WP budgets. He also offers a detailed, though fictitious, example of a WP budget to explain some of the generalizable points he makes about managing the budget.

This latter article, in particular, is one I plan to refer back to in the future. Being in charge of a budget is currently my biggest concern about doing administrative work. (Some of the articles we read this week indicated that not all WPAs are in control of their program's budget. I'm secretly hoping--don't tell ANYONE!--that if I'm ever a WPA, this will be my situation. However, I recognize that it would probably be better for the writing program if its administrator had hands in the game--or power in the pocket, as bloodthirsty Ed White might say.)

I was hoping that in my former position as an assistant director of the WC at Pitt State, I would be able to do some budget management to gain experience in this area, but the closest I got was writing sections of the annual funding request document. Sure, figuring out how to get money is important, but so is knowing how to use it once you have it. The fact that many job ads I've seen that include administrative responsibilities ask for applicants with experience in budget management proves this.

Furthermore, my experience as treasurer of GSAB this year has enlightened me with regard to how complex university funding can be. (We have money in three separate places: an official student organization account, which we basically can't use for anything because it's so regulated; a cash box in the department office, controlled by Sharon, which I'm pretty sure isn't totally kosher; and a "foundation" account that is actually shared with some other people(?). AND we're talking about opening another personal checking account, too! It's cray.) Of course I can't avoid mentioning, also, the unforeseen taxes problem that our Writing Program is currently struggling with as another example of why managing a budget for a university-affiliated program seems terrifying.

I'm hoping that this topic is one that will get taken up in our class discussions this week. I'd like to hear Mike's advice, in particular, about working with university funds. I also wonder how I can market myself (and, oh yeah, feel truly confident in the pitch) as someone who can manage a budget as an administrator even if I don't have any direct prior experience with it. Do you guys have other questions about budget work that you would add to the list for further exploration in class?

WPA Burnout

I was extremely interested in the Irene Ward essay about burnout and some of the things that she says make WPAs especially susceptible to this pitfall. She says, “What is important to note is that burnout is ‘a prolonged response to chronic interpersonal  stressors on the job’” (Maslach qtd. in Ward 51). The fact that WPAs have to deal so often with people — varying groups of constituents with different, often conflicting, demands — is an important aspect of burnout. She then goes on to discuss circumstances that are likely to lead to burnout as they relate to job responsibilities and conflicts, the organizational structure of the larger institution, and personal characteristics.
As I read through this essay and some of the other readings for this week, the concepts of conflict and work overload came up repeatedly and struck me as being very relevant to the composition field in general. I’ve had my own experiences with burnout, typically at the end of each school year when I’m tired of the repetitious, time-consuming cycle of receiving rough drafts, giving comments, conferencing with students, and then grading final drafts. I put a lot of effort into this process, and in some instances, there are students who put very little effort into it. There are lots of possible reasons for this, but I think many of them believe that the course expectations are either meaningless or too burdensome. I get worn out by students who ask questions about things I had just answered a few minutes before, and I begin to wonder if anyone is really listening -- or learning. Even worse, I’ve noticed that I sometimes have a very negative, cynical view of students who are absent and/or requesting extensions for assignment deadlines.
All of this seems to fall under Ward’s definition of burnout, which is actually kind of a relief. In those moments when I feel anxious, overwhelmed, or cynical, it doesn’t automatically mean that I’m an unqualified professor or a bad person. There are circumstances inherent in teaching composition to a large number of freshmen students that will naturally lead to occasional burnout, and after completing the reading for this week, it’s clear to me that this tendency is much more likely for WPAs, who attempt to meet the needs of lots of different people, often without adequate resources or administrative support. Their job is often undervalued and misunderstood by other faculty and administrators, and yet they are sometimes seen as “the bad guy” to the composition faculty and students they serve. This must be incredibly stressful and isolating, and because they are the director of the program, there aren’t many people to whom they can vent their problems or frustrations. Additionally, some of the other readings for this week mentioned how WPAs have to continually fight for budgeting and resources, inserting themselves into some sort of power struggle in the institution’s hierarchy. (See the military metaphors made repeatedly in White’s “Use it or Lose It: Power and the WPA.”)
I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that I connected many of the readings for this week back to this concept of burnout, and because it’s something that most WPAs and composition faculty probably experience at some point in their careers, I think it’s worth a lot more exploration. Specifically, I keep wondering if women in these roles are even more prone to burnout than men -- maybe because they have to work harder to gain power, and when they assert themselves, people are more likely to view them negatively. Women also still tend to take on larger domestic roles, and so it seems to me (in contradiction to what Ward says about family life) that a WPA who is also a mother would have even greater demands on her time, energy, and limited finances. These are aspects of situatedness that I’ve been pondering, and I think these types of stories are worth exploring and sharing to create even greater awareness of the challenges of the WPA.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

1987 to 2016: How Much Has Changed?


In “The Wyoming Conference Resolution Opposing Unfair Salaries and Working Conditions for Post-Secondary Teachers of Writing,” authors Linda R. Robertson, Sharon Crowley and Frank Lentricchia write: “From the stories we tell one another, it is clear that many of us regard ourselves as victims by our institutions, relegated to marginal positions and tenuous employment with no benefits” (275).

When I first read this, I was thinking that we do receive benefits from teaching but when I saw that this article was from 1987, I realized that perhaps we really have made some progress in English departments. However, these stories that the authors are referring to are ones that we still hear during “water cooler” conversations. Graduate students grumble about whether or not we can afford to get that extra order of hashbrowns at IHop considering our annual stipend. Contract faculty often take on heavy teaching loads although many of them do receive partial or full benefits from the school, at least at Ball State. My point is that while graduate students do receive stipends and contract faculty or adjuncts are more likely to get benefits compared to 1987, some of the suggestions for minimum salary truly are minimum. The MLA’s suggestions for minimum salary for “full-time appointments at the entry level should be at least $34,000 to $37,000 for those at the rank of instructor and at least $43,000 to $46,000 for those at the rank of beginning assistant professor.” Perhaps this sounds like a decent amount but considering we’ve been in school for a significant number of years and many of us have work experience from teaching, this hardly encourages people to enter the profession. Many graduates today leave college with higher amounts of debt. I don’t mean to complain about the pay because I chose this career course because I love it and not because I want to get rich. My concern is that as cohorts of graduates continue to face student debt and the competition for these jobs increases, we continue to face similar concerns as those who expressed frustration in 1987.

Many English departments recognize these frustrations and do their best to meet the needs of instructors. I know that Ball State has increased the stipend for graduate students and decreased the teaching load to help students. But there’s only so much that can be done on a limited budget. This is where WPAs and other administrators might step in and advocate for better pay or working conditions to upper-administration in the university. This is no easy task and I’m sure other departments across campus feel similar frustrations. I’m interested to hear more about how these changes could realistically be made.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Finding Support

In "A Selection of Strategies for Training Teaching Assistants," Irene Ward and Merry Perry, observe, "Many professions place strenuous demands on personal time. Anxiety in any area--teaching, coursework, or scholarship--will affect the other areas due to the dynamic tensions among multiple demands. Our experience has taught us that TAs function better when they are challenged to deal with issues and given the ongoing support--practical information and positive reinforcement--they need" (121). From Ward and Perry's quote, two concepts stand out: (1) there is a lot that requires a TAs' time/attention, which can cause anxiety, and (2) TAs need assistance in coping, learning, and succeeding in their new positions. What Ward and Perry seek to demonstrate in these two concepts is the WP's attempt to balance the stressful environment that TAs find themselves in by providing a support network. For many TAs, I think the support network that the WP provides is an essential aspect to, not only their growth as an instructor, but their well-being as well.

To clarify: A professor said (I think it might have been Dr. Mix), that being a graduate student is lonely. I think we have all experienced this in different ways, but the major commonality seems to be that the people who we care about (typically our family members) don't appreciate/value/understand our work as graduate students. The more entrenched you become in the discipline, in the academy, the more distance there seems to be.

Because graduate students are less likely to get support from their family, it is that much more important that they receive the kind of positive reinforcement that Ward and Perry discuss from the WP. Although a goal of most WP is to create a support system for TAs, I think it would also be beneficial if graduate students, especially new ones, had people they could talk to about the cultural disconnect between their family life and academic life. This might make the transition a lot easier and less stressful.

I think it is common for graduates students to talk about their family situations in passing, and merely shrug it off as "the way it is." However, I know it is very stressful at first, and I think that as a community we should take more responsibility for helping our new graduate students transition.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Organic Writing Assessment

At the beginning of chapter 1, "Organic Matters", Bob Broad equates writing assessment to organic farming. His argument makes sense in that he wants people to understand that it is important to understand where assessment comes from and that it should be locally developed. And that's all well and good, but the same arguments that are brought up when discussing organic farming also apply to views of organic assessment. For starters, when thinking abut organic farming you have to take into account the time and money that has to go into the process. Some farmers and teachers alike don't have other commitments and responsibilities they have to attend to. In a school where research is the focus an instructor has to split time between teaching and research they may not have the time to invest in a more thorough form of assessment. Others may have a heavy teaching load that they have to manage. Think about how many classes an adjunct instructor may be teaching. I've known some that teach six classes a semester; that's on average 150 students they have to work with. On top of that comes the cost. How much does the organic, locally-grown tomato cost in comparison to the mass produced one? Who is the perceived consumer? In teaching terms, what's the average amount of students an instructor wanting to use organic assessment methods effectively can teach? How does this affect the number of instructors that the school hires? Doe that impact the types of instructors (Full-time, adjunct, grad students, etc)? Does that change the budget? Will funds have to be diverted from something else to hire more instructors?

Secondly, if we're sticking with ag econ metaphors, what happens to areas with food deserts? How do you utilize "home gardening" techniques when you don't have a yard to garden in? There are a lot of areas where the number of composition faculty are scares and composition is taught by those not just outside the field of composition, outside the field of English. In our approaches to assessment are we universalized the idea of a writing program? Have we thought about faculty the don't lie within the norms that we're used to? One of the most forgotten groups of composition instructors are those who teach at community colleges. Many, if not most, of them have not studied or been adequately trained in writing assessment. Quite of few of them don't even have a degree in English. How are they supposed to learn how to do organic assessment? They are also the ones who generally teach higher course loads with more students for less pay. And many of their students are the underprivileged. There's nothing wrong with wanting to have organic assessment, but I think too often we look at assessment through the eyes of the privileged. Assessment is a hard thing to do and often times those with the toughest situations regarding assessment are ignored in these conversations.

Collaboration

I've got collaboration on the brain. That's mostly because Kelsie and I recently have been working on a collaborative teaching/research project. So when I read Latterell's claim at the end of her article--"Tenured faculty, advanced GTAs, writing center professionals, instructors, and undergraduate students are under-utilized resources in most GTA education programs" (153)--I thought, Yes, of course that's true.

Latterell is talking about making use of all our personnel resources within the entire spectrum of GTA education, including the practicum, workshops, mentorships, etc. But even if we narrow that scope down to just the practicum, it's an interesting idea. Consider the following:

  • A practicum course could be collaboratively planned/designed by various stakeholders in the writing program, not just the director or instructor of record. 
  • A practicum course could be taught, perhaps in sections, by various people involved in the writing program, according to their areas of expertise. 
  • "Advanced" GTAs could guest lecture, like Mike gave Mary and me the opportunity to do, in the practicum class. 
  • Writing center tutors could guest lecture (or lead a workshop, etc.) about responding to student writing and conferencing with students. 
  • We could invite FYC student voices into the practicum class in a variety of ways, as well. For example, I held a focus group with a few of my 103 students last semester (and offered them extra credit for participating). I asked them to tell me about their thoughts on "discussion v. lecture" in the classroom for teaching and learning. I recorded the focus group and edited it down to share with the practicum students on a day that I was guest lecturing. Understanding what students believe about and value in their eduction should, in part, inform the instructional choices we make. 
At first, one might think that sharing responsibilities with others in this way would lighten the load of the person who is typically placed with the majority of the administrative burden. However, based on my own experience with collaboration, that's not necessarily true. Collaboration is difficult and it takes more time than you expect it to, but I think the results show an important pay off. GTAs' education would benefit from hearing a variety of perspectives related to teaching composition and they would form relationships with a variety of people who can all serve as helpful resources to them. The moral of the story, folks, at least in my opinion, is that two heads are better than one. 

How can we set up our writing program administration and institutional practices so that they value and encourage/reward collaboration like this? Are you guys skeptical about the idea or find it intriguing (like I do)? If you are skeptical, why is that?  

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

TA Training and the Balance Between Budget and Best Practices

In some ways, I feel like the least-qualified person to comment on this unit about teaching assistants and the best ways to train them for their work as both students and instructors. I’ve never been a TA nor do I have much working knowledge about how the training program at Ball State operates. At the small, private university where I teach, this is a non-issue. We don’t have graduate programs in English, and, therefore, we don’t have graduate students that need training. However, I will say that I can strongly relate to the anxiety that Ward and Perry describe in their chapter about TAs and how they are likely to feel as they enter their first semester as instructors. When I first started as an adjunct, I didn’t have a strong background in rhetoric and composition, and though I was given a textbook and a department syllabus that outlined course objectives, I felt like I was groping in the dark to find relevant classroom activities, discussion topics, and assignments. In that first year, I think my main goal was to “fill up” the 50 minutes of class time each day, and though I always hoped that my lesson plans were relevant and helpful, I was painfully aware that I didn’t have the background knowledge in composition or pedagogy to be truly effective.

As I read through the articles for this week, it was clear that this background knowledge is something to be valued in teaching assistants and should be intentionally fostered within the writing programs where they teach. However, there is a difficult balance that WPAs have to maintain when confronted with constraints of time, money, and space. The reason that TAs even exist is because they serve a financial need for most institutions who couldn’t afford to hire only full-time faculty members to teach composition. And so they hire GTAs, who likely don’t have the background knowledge and practical experience to teach to their full potential. This tension between institutional constraints and effective teaching seems to be what fuels most of the discussions about TA training, and I found myself wondering through most of the readings if the widespread use of TAs (many of whom seem to be “thrown” into a teaching role) might in some ways be a disservice to the TAs themselves, first-year writing students, and the overall discipline.

For instance, Ward and Perry make note of the “multiple and interrelated dimensions of the TA experience” as well as the “multiple subject positions that TAs inhabit” (119). Clearly, TAs have to navigate a lot of new responsibilities that are both time-consuming and crucial to their success. Is it really possible for TAs to navigate this dual role immediately and effectively? Ward and Perry address this question directly: “A supportive director of graduate studies is a great help in being able to reassure students that ‘Yes, you are expected to do well in both areas’ and ‘yes, you can do it’” (121). However, I remain skeptical. Does a system where TAs immediately begin teaching (while they are being trained as TAs and taking their own graduate classes) set them up to “do well”?

Finally, Latterell brings up some concerns about TA training and practicums, primarily that this common procedure reinforces negative ideas “that teaching writing requires minimal expertise” and “is not valued, even by the rhetoric and composition field.” The fact that so many training programs focus on the “how to” of teaching writing gives the perception it’s an easy task that one can accomplish without much of the background knowledge I mentioned earlier.

Clearly, these are important challenges that WPAs must consider. Personally, I agree with the sentiments of most of the authors who advocate for a greater degree of TA training. I think to be truly effective, TAs should receive some sort of training before they actually begin teaching, which would give them at least some time to learn the theory behind practice and be more informed and intentional as they develop lesson plans. I wish I had been given some of these opportunities before I began teaching.