Reviewed by Shelly Danko (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Chair: Dominic DelliCarpini, York College of Pennsylvania
Cynthia Crimmins, York College of Pennsylvania, "Opening Up the Faculty Club: Engaging New Faculty in Ongoing Pedagogical Discussions"
Margaret Twigg, American University, Washington, DC, "Opening Up the Faculty Club: Transitioning from Queer Student to Teacher Queering the Composition Classroom"
Janet Auten, American University, Washington, DC, "Opening Up the Faculty Club: Making Sense of Teaching for the Future Faculty"
Respondent: Dominic DelliCarpini, York College of Pennsylvania
Paging through the 2014 Cs program, I came across "Opening Up the Faculty Club: Educating New Teachers for 21st Century Change." Without hesitation I circled panel B.18 and made a commitment to attend that prime time Thursday afternoon session. As a new graduate instructor, I’ve recently participated in a teacher training program and have joined the conversation surrounding teacher training. Unquestionably, it is a conversation I’d like to continue. Fittingly, to attend the panel made sense.
I arrived nearly 10 minutes early. I walked into the session, sat in the last row, positioned my computer on my lap, and observed. Unexpectedly, I witnessed a fist bump between Margaret Twigg and Janet Auten not long before Ms. Auten began, and that, I thought, was a prepossessing introduction—one that determined the energy level of the presentation.
Janet Auten, a thirteen-year graduate seminar instructor in Teaching Composition, enthusiastically inaugurated the session by proclaiming the heterogeneous nature of graduate students in teaching seminars. Graduate students participating in teaching seminars, she underscored, bring diverse backgrounds and assorted experience levels. As a result, instructors in graduate teaching seminars must orient (or perhaps reorient) students with the conversations in our field, but she explained that joining the conversation is more than merely learning the language, more than learning "just vocabulary." Instead, Auten emphasized that exigency exists in learning theory and reflective practices as orientation strategies. "Teaching education is grounded in theory," Auten asserted, and the K-12 teacher education enterprise "has already mined this territory." Following suit, teaching theory and reflective practices as a methodology should surface in graduate school teaching seminars. Through these methodologies, she avowed, students can learn through personal experiences and witness the development of certain practices, situate those practices along theorist, and come to understand theory. Auten afforded the exercises she uses to acclimate her students with theory and practice. She presented the following course expectations:
- Students read literature and generate writing pieces that set them aside theorists including David Bartholomae and Jaqueline Jones Royster.
- Students engage in close readings.
- Students facilitate and lead discussions on assigned readings.
- Students prepare lesson plans with a clear theoretical framework.
- Students reflect on readings and on teaching experiences through reflection questions and dialogue resulting in certain moments that expound specified theories.
- Students, at times, generate public reflections via the Course Management System, Blackboard, to engage in online discussion apropos teaching experiences and practices.
Auten, to conclude, offered an alumnus's testimony of her teaching methodologies and pedagogies. The alumnus noted in response to the Teaching Composition course, "I could see the theories everywhere, and they helped me to understand certain choices teachers were making." Following that testimony, Auten made a final assertion, "I want students to theorize their practice… and make something out of theory soup."
Margaret Twigg transitioned smoothly into her portion of the session. She began by posing the following scenario: if you were to ask me how to put a course together, I’d reply, "Beg, borrow, and steal." Twigg, a former student of Auten, said she tasted the theory soup, but as an undergraduate student instructor, she had to unearth how she would "sort the soup" and use her knowledge base of teaching composition and borrowed methods to make sense of theory and practice to personalize her own instruction and help her students succeed. To individualize her pedagogy, she employed her knowledge of queer theory. When she entered her first years of teaching undergraduate students, it was seemingly apparent that the "university privileged heternormativity," according to Twigg. She thus wanted to focus on eradicating students of abnormal and normal binaries in order to cultivate better writers. To do so, she highlighted and implemented opportunities for personal anecdotes and reflective practices in her classroom. Like Auten, Twigg shared components of her curriculum, and presented the example assignment outlined below:
- Assignment: Analyze the identities you construct as a writer and develop an original argument that considers how our writing might reflect and/or inform a change you have undergone in your first semester of college. The purpose of your essay is to consider the relationship between the identities we portray on the page and how we see ourselves with the tone of the paper reflecting a mixture of intense personal introspection and reflection.
Twigg had the recipe, thanks to Auten, to cook theory soup, but Twigg also added her own ingredients to taste, and thus personalized her curriculum. She concluded her presentation with the following quote that not only pertained to her students but directly related to her teaching experience: "New teachers need to have continual support, where they can experiment with their soup recipes before they are forced to eat them."
The final speaker, Cynthia Crimmins, Writing Center Director at York College @ Pennsylvania, discussed her role in supporting new teachers. Crimmins made apparent the importance York College places on teaching and teacher training. Embedded nicely within her presentation—to align her third of the session with the first two-thirds—was the idea of "reflective teaching practitioners." She described her endeavor to create "reflective teaching practitioners," using New Faculty Discussion Groups to do so. Crimmins made apparent that the goal in arranging meetings and activities is to provide a manageable amount of sessions that foster insightful and helpful notions. Incoming teachers receive the following support and training:
- New faculty read assigned books—Ken Bain’s What the Best College Teachers Do was one book used in the past—and the group gathers to discuss book concepts.
- New faculty attend monthly meetings where they share effective teaching practices and teaching experiences.
- New faculty, additionally, attend meetings with second and third-year faculty, other junior and tenured faculty, and the academic dean. In this space, the new faculty benefit from more experienced faculty members.
Crimmins finished her section by speaking to the success and impact of her New Faculty Discussion Groups; her program proved successful, as a survey produced a 4.8 average out of a possible five points on the overall impact of the program. Also, in questioning new faculty, many reported great satisfaction with the program. Crimmins noted that such success is based on providing "more than mere lip service" and not overreaching.
I was certainly satisfied with the hour and fifteen minutes I spent listening to this panel. Each individual presentation was nicely connected and focused on the need for reflective practices. But beyond the interlaced topic, enthusiasm, and afforded ideas on how to train teachers, what I found most valuable was the conversation and the need to rethink, alter, and habitually consider how to make better teacher training programs for graduate students.