Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Training Graduate Students to Teach Writing - part 2

So, last night, after reading Sally Barr Eberst's essay on "Why Graduate Students Resist" in my previous post, I looked through the rest of the WPA volume and found this essay: "Inventing a Teacherly Self: Positioning Journals in the TA Seminar" by Jackie Grutsch McKinney and Elizabeth Chiseri-Strater, from vol. 27, the following year (2003). It is also highly relevant and useful.

McKinney and Chiseri-Strater begin by quoting from Lad Tobin's essay "Teaching Against the Teaching Against Pedagogy" (must find this!)

New teachers must compose teacherly identities through invention, performance, integration, revision, trial-and-error. In order to make purposeful decisions about specific, concrete issues (e.g., how to arrange desks in the room, what to wear when they teach, what texts to assign, what grading system to use, and so on), graduate students must first recognize, develop, and invent themselves as teachers (Tobin 71 in McKinney and Chiseri-Strater 59).
[Tobin, Lad. "Teaching Against the Teaching Againt Pedagogy: Reading our Clasrooms, Writing Ourselves." Reader. 33/34 (1995): 68-84.]
While I can definitely use this information/insight right now with the current new TA's and for sure next fall with the next class of new TA's (should I share the article with them? if so, when?), Tobin here points directly to issues for the 4C's paper -- namely invention, performance, and trial-and-error.

For I think that we have to consider at least these points:
  • Are we talking about only looking at intentional self-presentation or also unintentional?
  • Do TA's even want to be seen as teachers? (What about those who do not plan to continue teaching?)
  • What about mulitple - overlapping/intersecting personas?

McKinney and Chiseri-Strater categorize the postings in the teaching journals in their own TA seminar into types of responses:
1. Confessions: I made a mistake (62)
2. Offerings: Am I Right? Or, See, I'm Doing Fine (62)
3. Aversions: I Just Want to KNow How to Do This (63)
4. Conscientious Objections: Sorry, [I tried it] But It Doesn't Work (64)
5. Transformations: See How I Have Changed (65)
They see these stock narratives as roles the new teachers adopt as they struggle with / resent the growing understanding "that none of the methods introduced in our seminar will work for everyone [all the time]" (65). In training their new TA's, the authors were especially concerned with #4:
"Out of all the narratives, we were most concerned initially with the teachers who wove these tales since our fear was that they were composing a teacherly self that resisted or misinterpreted every theory or practice we had shared with them in our seminar." (65)
They go on to say,
As first then, we misread the TAs' self-presentations or teaching narratives as the only or the true narrative of their teaching experiences, but upon rereading the journal in the context with the other assignments . . . we came to see that the teaching reflections and self-presentations were not the only useful barometers for the TA's classroom. Just as Newkirk notices in his undergraduate essays that students create personas or perform a self in their writing, he also shows the limitations of this self-construction when he asserts, "The key feature of these presentations is their selectivity:[emphasis mine] every act of self-presentation involves the withholding of information that might undermine the idealized imprssion the performer wants to convey" (Newkirk 3 in McKinney and Chiseri-Strater 66)

[Thomas Newkirk. The Performance of Self in Student Writing. Portsmouth NH: Boyton/Cook, 1997.]

In their conclusion, McKinney and Chiseri-Strater emphasize what is most important:
What seems far more important is for TAs to have an opportunity to invent, try out and perform their new identities as writing teachres on the pages of the journals and course work for the seminar.... But the journal...does not tell the whole tale....it was the combination of writings, observations, and clas dialogue that helped us see and understand the struggle that new TAs face in constructing themselves as teachers." (73)
Although the talk that Michael and I are writing for 4C's focuses on online presentation, I have already argued that this includes both visual and textual presentation, which naturally includes online journals, blogs, etc.

This was a great find.

McKinney, Jackie Grutsch and Elizabeth Chiseri-Strater. "Inventing a Teacherly Self: Positioning Journals in the TA Seminar." Writing Program Administration: The Journal of the Council of Writing Program Administrators. Vol. 27.1/2 Fall/Winter 2003. 59-74.


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