CCCC 2001 in Review: B.26 Configuring Our Past, Interrogating the Present, Articulating Their Future: Preparing Graduates to Teach beyond First-Year Composition
Alice Gillam: Chair
In this session, the speakers touched on important themes of development as applied to teaching professionals as well as undergraduates. Carole Clark Papper and Becky Rickly began with alternating scenarios of new-teacher horror stories-all based on a lack of preparation. After confessing that the stories came from their own experience, they continued their shared presentation with suggestions for improving teacher preparation, especially when preparing for courses more advanced than first-year composition. A key factor in preparation is early differentiation between the mastery of disciplinary content and the appropriate attention to the teaching and learning context. Pitching courses at the appropriate level is as important as knowing and understanding the material to be taught. Rickly reported on a pilot study of a small sample of junior faculty (in their first two years of full-time teaching) and a similar group of tenured faculty identified as "exemplary" via student evaluations. She surveyed the subjects on their preparation for lower division and upper division courses as well as their self-evaluation of their effectiveness in those courses. In general, the junior faculty saw themselves as better prepared for and more effective in lower division courses. Teaching upper division or graduate courses was more daunting to them and less likely to be an area of professional confidence. Tenured faculty were able to look back at their teaching to identify mistakes characterized as audience-centered, i.e., a lack of clear expectations of their students and a tendency to over-prepare and thus incorrectly aim their courses, usually at too high a level. These more experienced professors saw themselves as most effective at upper division teaching.
Papper and Rickly proposed the following principles for better preparation of new Ph.D.'s:
Extending these recommendations, Rich Haswell took up a key question, "What capability does a teacher of advanced composition most need?" The answer, in his view, is found in the philosophy of Giorgio Agamben, who describes the quality of "ease" as a means of reconciling the competing tensions of potential and outcomes. Rather than viewing potential and outcomes as poles, Haswell suggests thinking of potential as that which yields increased potential as evidenced by periodic outcomes. This more dynamic, less bounded view applies as well to the variety of teaching experiences that graduate students will face as professionals. Assessment of student gain (in learning, sophistication, prowess) requires training in how to apprehend and measure change. Measuring change, however, is not the same as applying standards, which, Haswell notes, brings us back to the need to be at "ease" with potential. We can measure how far students have come; we are less able to measure how far they have to go. Each of us has an ongoing capacity for change which ought to yield a generous attitude toward others that makes room for their change and our corresponding ease with their development. Accordingly, teachers of advanced composition courses can appreciate the developmental reality that their older, more advanced students will exhibit more confidence and are simply be more comfortable and more at ease with themselves as learners. [CR]
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