The fatigue I feel at the end of the semester makes me impatient. And while I try to have patience with my impatience--realizing that when something sets me off, that perhaps I might be over-reacting and might need a nap or a hike or to plant something in dirt--I think it's also useful to observe what sets me off, as it might be instructive.
thing that's irked me for years now is when someone questions my
credentials or ability to teach something. As someone who works on
southern women writers, I've had my ability to teach America literature
questioned. As someone whose PhD is in literary studies (as well as
women's & gender studies), I've had my ability to teach composition
questioned. And as someone who includes literature in composition
classes, I've had my pedagogical strategies, motivations, and intentions
Part of the problem is that, regardless
of your research interests, if you go to graduate school in anything
vaguely English-related, you're going to teach composition. And in many
places, teaching composition is not the most enjoyable teaching. It's
grading-intensive, and as it often is a first year, core curriculum
class, it often ends up being as much about how to do college as it is
about how to determine rhetorical strategies. So, in graduate school, we
get the message loud and clear that teaching comp is low status work
that we should try to get out of.
However, that's not
the only reason that grad students try to get out of teaching comp. An
important reason to try to get other teaching experience is the
realities of the job market. If you are an American literature person,
and you want an American literature position, you need to have on your
CV that you've taught American literature. Which then perpetuates the
low status of comp classes, as grad students feel that they must compete
in order to earn the privilege of teaching literature classes.
Composition is for losers.*
students--regardless of their research focus--are expected to teach
composition, that is what they're trained in. In both of my graduate
programs, there was extensive focus on composition pedagogy. When it
comes to teaching literature, however, pedagogical training was nearly
I think there are a number of reasons for
this. First, a lot of pedagogical philosophy is transferable between
disciplines. Regardless of what I'm teaching, my pedagogical first
principles are analysis and engagement. Classroom management, academic
research, scaffolded student collaborations--these are priorities in all
of my classes.
More importantly, however, is the
scarcity of literature classes available for grad students. If anyone
admitted doubt about knowing how to teach a literature class, there are
plenty of people who would claim to be able to do so. Having been a
student in so many undergraduate and graduate literature classes, surely
it's easy to go from being a student to being a teacher?
don't think so. I've spent a lot of time reading what I have found on
teaching literature (which hasn't seemed nearly as prolific a field as
that about teaching composition) and consulting with colleagues about
their own best practices. For me, I've articulated for myself the
differences between teaching literature in a FYC class versus in a
literature class (which will be the topic of a future blog (spoiler
alert: the key is "outcomes")).
I'm writing this and
posting this in part to jump-start my blog-writing again, as well as to
start thinking through and reflecting in writing what I have learned
about teaching, especially the last two years as a Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow.
One primary goal this summer is to re-write my teaching philosophy, and
I plan to use this blog as a place to work that out. I hope some people
will follow along and even chime in with ideas and feedback along the
*This isn't my actual
opinion--particularly in the postdoctoral program I'm currently in,
which is focused on multimodal composition, digital pedagogy, and
encourages experimentation and collaboration both in and out of the
classroom, I have found that teaching composition can be a challenging,
rewarding, and enjoyable (more on that coming soon, too).