Category Archives: Teaching

Textual Collaborations: Preparing Two-Year College English Faculty

This post is written by members Holly Hassel and Kelly Ritter.

Since two-year colleges have developed an independent identity as sites of education, professional organizations have sought to define the specific type of knowledge and training that leads to successful outcomes for instructors in these settings. The first Guidelines for Junior College English Teacher Training Programs were published in 1971, while the “Guidelines for the Academic Preparation of English Faculty in Two-Year Colleges” were first approved by the TYCA Executive Committee in 2004 (Jensen and Toth 561). Each of these documents sought to distinguish what educational preparation best prepared instructors to work in two-year colleges.

In 2017, updated guidelines appear in both College English and Teaching English in the Two-Year College. Why both publications? They will help those who are hiring instructors and want guidance in evaluating credentials or those working toward developing internal professional development programs. The new document, “TYCA Guidelines for Preparing Teachers of English in the Two-Year College” also engages graduate programs and faculty in the conversation in ways that prior statements did not.

With the rapid collapse of tenure-track lines in English departments nationwide, graduate program directors (and other graduate faculty members who mentor candidates) have slowly come to realize that faculty positions outside the idealized R1 campus are what their students will likely hold. More slowly still, arguably, these advisors have come to realize the value of making positions at two-year colleges visible. But the traditional graduate program does very little to train students for this work. As Kelly considered these professional realities, she concluded that publishing the updated guidelines in College English not only makes (more) visible the history and value of training and expertise among two-year college faculty; it also lays bare the chasm that has long existed between graduate program training in English, particularly literary studies, and the work done at two-year colleges nationwide. As editor of CE, Kelly wanted to make this division known to readers. But perhaps more important than exposing this lack of training and calling for a renewed interest in preparing graduate students for two-year college work, Kelly wanted to make a larger statement about who reads our journals and why. The cooperative relationship between TETYC and CE (and CCC) has always been a strength of those journals; creating more dialogue between these audiences–and a more openly welcoming gesture toward the two-year audience to indeed find itself in the pages of CE is part of making that larger statement.

For Holly, the publication of the guidelines is both a responsibility of the journal and an opportunity to contribute to the growing body of literature on how graduate education in English MA and PhD programs can evolve to meet the needs of this time and place in higher education. Anchoring the September 2017 issue of Teaching English in the Two-Year College (a special issue focused on graduate preparation for two-year college English teachers), then, the new guidelines are poised to speak to audiences across the range of college English, writing, and humanities programs. The 2004 guidelines outline areas of formal preparation (for example, literature, grammar, composition theory and pedagogy, rhetoric and rhetorical theory, research methods, the adult learner, and teaching reading) and characteristics of effective two-year college faculty—being reflective, flexible, and understanding of diversity; participating in professional communities; collaborating with colleagues; and creating a student-centered learning environment. By contrast, the most recent “Guidelines for Preparation” more squarely calls on graduate programs to partner explicitly and in spirit with two-year college institutions in preparing instructors to work in open-admissions institutions.

In this way, the new statement is a road map for teacher-scholars in all sectors of higher education to recognize and make visible the specific conditions of two-year colleges as sites of employment, to highlight their value as potential employers of MA- or PhD-holding graduates in English programs, and to adjust their programs in curricular and professional work that will prepare their students to be educators who participate in the various organizations within the profession and engage in ongoing development throughout their careers.

What has further inspired College English and Teaching English in the Two-Year College to highlight these new guidelines statements, however, is the imperative for the field of English studies itself to come to terms with some critical realities:

  • The definition of academic labor is shifting; the very shape of the labor force itself has dramatically evolved, as readers know, with anywhere from 60% to 80% non-tenure-track faculty among its ranks, depending upon which figure from any number of studies that one wishes to use.
  • Two-year colleges, like four-year colleges and universities, operate under significant reliance upon non-tenure-track labor; four-year institutions have recently become more cognizant of this labor force and thus should (in our view) see less separation from our two-year colleagues, not more.
  • Additionally, the concerns of four-year faculty—student agency, curricular development, revision, and innovation, shared governance, intellectual freedom, fair working conditions, cross-cultural awareness and sensitivity, to name just a few—are also the concerns of two-year faculty.

It’s impossible to know whether this partnership between us as journal editors and the two issues will bear fruit. Reading audiences are funny things—they appear and recede, they celebrate, they criticize, they evolve. At any one time a reader might be picking up both the CE and TETYC issues and connecting the dots. Or it might be a historian, some years down the road, who pulls each of our issues out of the (probably electronic) archive and says, Hey, what’s this? Part of providing this annotation, this exegesis, regarding our collaborative work is to anticipate that future moment and provide a narrative for it.

But writing here, as we have, is also a way to talk through and to readers of the present, to challenge all of us to ask what kind of relationships can and should exist between two-year and four-year faculty, programs, and professional development? Who do we want our future faculty to be, and how do we want them to enter a story that has long had many tellers with sometimes competing agendas? We can’t answer these questions for all of us, but perhaps knitting the history and purposes of TYCA into the fabric of CE is a place to start.

Works Cited

Calhoon-Dillahunt, Carolyn, Darin L. Jensen, Sarah Z. Johnson, Howard Tinberg, and Christie Toth. TYCA Guidelines for Preparing Teachers of English in the Two-Year College. College English. Vol. 79, no. 6, July 2017, 550–60.

Jensen, Darin L.,  and Christie Toth. “Unknown Knowns: The Past, Present, and Future of Graduate Preparation for Two-Year College English Faculty.” College English, vol. 79, no. 6, July 2017, 561–92.

“TYCA Guidelines for Preparing Teachers of English in the Two-Year College,” Teaching English in the Two-Year College, vol. 45, no. 1, Sept 2017, pp. 8–19.

TYCA. “Guidelines for the Academic Preparation of English Faculty at Two-Year Colleges.” Two-Year College English Association. 2004. http://www.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Groups/TYCA/TYCAGuidelines.pdf.

Holly Hassel is a professor of English and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Marathon County, a two-year college. Twitter: @prof_hassel

 

 

 Kelly Ritter is Associate Dean for Curricula and Academic Policy and professor of English and Writing Studies at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Road to Convention and Beyond: What OUR Students and I Have Been Sharing

PLEDGE

We write to live
And live to write
Our eyes on the prize
It’s still in sight
We got something to say
And we won’t speak quietly
We come from the heart
We’re the Red Poet Society                     

 

“We have to read the hard stories because how will we know what life is really like?”

“This is the first book I have ever read.”

“Really like? How will we know if the literature we read is real to us and how and where we live if we don’t read it?”

“Will Jacqueline Woodson be able to see us ask our questions?”

“Our teacher helps us to understand.”

“Do you read like that character?”

“We have a voice and we think.”

“Do you find yourself when you write?”
(Students to Jimmy Santiago Baca)

“Shakespeare wrote that character wrong!”

“Do you think racism is in the DNA? I mean, can anyone ever really leave the family and change?” (Hartford Students to Chadwick)


While the symbolic theme of the 2017 Convention is The Next Chapter, what inspired that symbol and image is the overall theme and the call for proposals: “Teaching Our Students Today, Tomorrow, Forever: Recapturing Our Voices, Our Agency, Our Mission.”

We find ourselves at an interesting moment in time and history in that education—anchored in lifelong literacy—as an imperative for ALL children. We who are privileged to teach ELA, with all of its myriad iterations, find ourselves on a newer, different path of teaching and learning from our predecessors. The key factor in this new and energizing teaching context lies in our STUDENTS, as the Red Poet Society makes quite clear. I continue to be in awe of their energy, passion, and belief in what you and I know so very well: the absolute power of language. This blog update aims to provide our membership with a snapshot of what we will experience at Convention, yes, but I am also seeking to distinguish between our well-seasoned perceptions of today’s students—those post–9/11 and post—Great Recession—whose perspectives and tendencies do not always fit the oft-cited norms. Consequently, the more I have worked with these students, the more I am adapting and learning with them. Essentially, a kind of blending has occurred—I still see the literature, composition, rhetoric, and other ELA components in front of me—canonical and modern—but I “arrange,” “style,” and “deliver,” reading my new audience constantly. This new reading and adapting and delivering now includes NCTE—all of us.

I have always found secondary students to be interesting and dynamic because I began my career as a secondary teacher. However, since 2012, I am finding elementary, middle, and secondary students to be uncodifiable, unstereotypical, probative, opinionated, boundlessly energetic, deliberative, skeptical, and yet, fearless. The students exhibit all of these traits, I have surmised, because for so many of them, regardless of where they live, how they live, what they look like, our time, events, and present upheavals have forged them into an entirely different generation, as research by so many sociologists and psychologists indicates.

Rural, urban, suburban, wealthy, poor, variegated ethnicities, religions, geographical regions, languages, and more, public school, private school, charter school—these are the students with whom I and our keynoters have been spending our time. I have been in classrooms with students around the country in person and virtually, collaborating with administrators and fellow teachers. Oakland, Houston, Hartford, Belmont, St. Louis, Denver, Fredericksburg, New Kent, Cambridge, Hardwick, Sterling, El Paso—these are cities with schools where I have spent the greater part of last and this year, meeting with students and collaborating with their teachers regarding curricular resources and my presence for our 2017 Convention. Along the way—long before I was even nominated for vice president and during the actual preparation for Convention, our teachers, their students, and many administrators and communities have all had a most profound effect and affect on my understanding of why I teach and for the first time, a profound impact on me, personally. Differences, similarities, anticipations, expectations, assumptions, surprises, and much elation and learning has taken place—and not one of us has been left the same. This effect is a keenly good thing.

The students have not only accepted me into their classrooms, but more importantly, these students have privileged my sharing with them and their sharing with me through literature, writing, listening, speaking, viewing, listening, and technology. They have much to express. They do read; they will read when we help them connect the dots they require—relevance to who they are, where they are, and when they are. The text can be Jimmy Santiago Baca’s poetry, Jacqueline Woodson’s prose, Mark Twain’s historical novels, Gareth Hinds’s graphic texts, or Leland Melvin’s autobiography. Texts can be the music of Duke Ellington, a letter of Malcom X’s, a speech of Dr. King’s, a play of Shakespeare, or Beyoncé’s Lemonade. They will read. And they have opinions with hundreds of questions. I know. This has been a significant portion of my life since last November.

What has also struck me has been how many of our students today have what I describe as old eyes—they have already seen and experienced and, some, are constantly surrounded by so much, while still so tenderly young. They have dreams; they have aspirations; some are more voiced—others a bit furtive at our beginning. But to a one, each student expresses initial disbelief that we, NCTE, do care, that we do see them. They ask me why I care; I tell them. They email me; they have an open inquiry forum when we are in class—we are symbiotic.

These students know, and now believe beyond a shadow of doubt, that I will continue to be there with them and their teachers long after Convention. They know that NCTE will be there, too. In so many ways, these students, since 2012, are teaching me that they require more—they require our listening and responding in ways that may at this time not be in books, articles, white papers. Making myself available to them under different circumstances—text, email, looking at their videos, sending questions to answer and I respond—these are different learning/instructional pathways that for me that technology is making possible. The personal touch, too, is still very important. In my case, an African-American-woman-scholar-southerner, now northerner, who wants to listen and interact, learn, laugh, and be curious with them—this is important.

As ELA educators of every ilk, we must rethink, re-envision ourselves, and see our students: listen to them, confer with them, inquire with them, explore and discover with them, thereby, disrupting and exploding the notion of schools as prefabricated prisons from which they will never escape. We must revel in knowledge with them. We are the best and most sustained models they have in education. NCTE holds this place, represents this real ability to recast our classrooms, recapture our agency, enable our students’ agency for life. Our taking up this twenty-first-century mantle individually and as members of NCTE is our mission for the Next Chapter.

In Honor of This Year’s National Day on Writing, Write for Civic Action!

The following post was written by Nicole Mirra and is part of an ongoing monthly series from the NCTE Standing Committee on Global Citizenship.

In response to many of the recent controversies, injustices, and tragedies that have rocked our nation, folks are consistently turning to education in order to raise awareness and spark action. It seems that news organizations and nonprofit groups are offering resources weekly, whether in response to white supremacist marches in Charlottesville, NFL #TakeAKnee protests, or the mass shooting in Las Vegas.

The reason for these outpouring of resources is simple—we know that young people turn to their teachers for guidance as they seek to make sense of what is happening in the country. As a society, we look to schools to process national events and to imbue the next generation with the knowledge, compassion, and values to do better than the ones that came before and make our nation better, kinder, wiser.

As a result, it is crucial that we teachers recognize ourselves as powerful civic agents, not only in the classroom but also in our daily lives. Ironically, at the same time that we ask teachers to help young people understand national events, we also often insist that they avoid wading into controversial waters and present a completely neutral, objective face to young people. As previous NCTE resources have explained, there is no apolitical classroom—everything we do in the classroom, from how we manage relationships with students to what texts we teach, transmits a political message to students about the nature of democratic life.

So let’s be conscious about kind of society we want for our students and ourselves. Let’s reflect not only on our classroom practices, but also on ways we can advocate for public education, our students, and our communities in our capacity as citizens.

In honor of the National Day on Writing, which is coming up on October 20, consider the various ways that you can write for civic action:

1. Make your practice public: Write a blog entry for NCTE! Contribute to the NCTE Village! Tell the world about how you are shaping the next generation of citizens in your classroom by sharing instructional strategies, curriculum resources, or examples of student work.

2. Write to your elected representatives: Tell the folks who represent you about the issues that matter most to you and your students! Here are some short webinars courtesy of the NCTE Studies in Literacy and Multimedia (SLAM) Assembly that can help you get started:

a. SLAM School: Letter-Writing;

b. SLAM School: Contacting Your Representatives.

3. Get involved in NCTE Advocacy: Take a look at the NCTE Resources for Taking Action and Action You Can Do At Home and commit to one small action in order to make your voice heard on the issues that affect your classroom

While teaching is the most crucial civic action that most of us engage in on a daily basis, there is much more that we can do to make our voices heard at the local and national level. Writing is a powerful way for us to share our expertise with a wider audience and insist that educators have a seat at the table when decisions are made that affect our students, our schools, and our communities.

Diminishing the Disconnect: Student Perspective on Relevant Writing Feedback

This post is by member Shelby M. Boehm.

 Since becoming an English teacher, I have been dedicated to improving the writing of my students without taking away their author’s role in the writing process. During my first year teaching, I was spending hours giving feedback that in my mind was helpful to a writer, only to find out the outcome was virtually useless: few students were revising their work, and the feedback was not improving their writing on the same assignment or similar future assignments. I could not justify spending hours with a red pen when revision was not the priority for my student authors; however, I could dedicate time to increasing ownership in authorship within my classroom writing culture. By creating intentional spaces for feedback and revision cycles in my classroom, students now think critically and authentically about their writing, which has led to diminishing the disconnect between how teachers and students define effective writing feedback.

In my tenth-grade English classroom, we study multiple genres of authentic writing. After I give feedback on each draft of a piece of writing, I ask students to respond to two prompts:

  1. Identify a feedback comment (via Google Doc or in a conversation) that was helpful.

2. Discuss the impact on your revision process or on future writing.

Many of my conversations with students reveal that intentionally thinking about their writing due to this feedback process leads to the motivation for improvement, leading to revised, oftentimes better, writing. A student who previously did not self-identify as a writer said, “The comments that I got showed me what to work on, and especially after I read through again, I knew what I needed to change.” The mere presence of writing feedback causes the author to participate in rereading and reconsidering their writing, even if the feedback comment is a reminder of what the author already knew about their writing.

I also conference with students frequently throughout the writing process to understand not only what they need in terms of writing improvement, but also who they are as developing writers. Receiving a draft is often half the battle; many students discount their talent and worthy experiences before even picking up the pencil. The act of writing is also the undertaking of using our personal voice to communicate ideas that are sometimes still developing on the page. These conferences help to build trust and create a culture encouraging vulnerability that leads to risk-taking and ultimately improvement in writing. I want to encourage my students to see themselves as bold, intrepid, evolving writers, so I work purposefully to create a classroom environment that honors exploration and reconsideration. During conferences, I ask my students these questions to think critically and authentically about their work:

  1. How do you define a writer? What characteristics does a writer have that you see in yourself? Do you consider yourself a writer?
  2. Show me a part of your work that you’re proud of. Explain.
  3. Show me a part of your work that you feel could be improved. Explain.
  4. Show me a feedback comment that helped you revise your work, and explain how you revised your work.
  5. What drives your decision to revise your work?

A focus on writing feedback has tremendous impact on both student outcomes and my instructional practice. This intentional space results in more student-driven revisions and therefore more conscious attention to developing as writers. In my experience, getting students to think about their writing after they submitted a piece was half the challenge; these feedback cycles now make that thought process an intentional part of our writing routine.

Shelby Boehm teaches tenth-grade English language arts at P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School, the University of Florida’s affiliated K-12 laboratory school. She can be reached at sboehm@pky.ufl.edu or on Twitter @TeamBoehm.

The Complex Work of a Simple Police Report, Part II

(Adapted from the book Genre of Power: Police Report Writers and Readers in the Justice System)

This post was written by member Leslie Seawright. This is the second of two parts. You can read the first part here.

Prior to my research efforts at the Jackson Police Department,[i]  I had always heard that police could not write, that police reports were worthless documents, and that no one should ever trust what a cop wrote down. It was also well known in my academic and social circles that police reports were not allowed in court because of how poorly they were written (a misnomer). My initial research into police writing revealed similar sentiments. Prosecutors, police chiefs, defense attorneys, and even officers all complained to me about how poorly police reports are written. I heard this anecdotally in casual conversations and in formal interviews with police chiefs, prosecutors, and defense attorneys. The mountain of texts dedicated to improving officer report writing skills demonstrates the problems associated with report writing. Names like How to Really Really Write those Boring Police Reports, Plain English for Cops, Painless Police Report Writing, and my favorite, The Best Police Report Writing Book with Samples: Written for Police by Police, This is not an English Lesson, say a lot about how reports are viewed by officers and superiors. Report writing is seen as boring, difficult, convoluted, painful, and overly concerned with grammar. The manuals typical solutions are templates and simplified demands to include the Who, What, When, Where, How, and Why of every encounter. They largely avoid the context of police writing as a rhetorical situation fraught with complicated audience needs and multiple, often conflicting, purposes.

It became clear after reviewing police academy materials and sitting in two different report-training sessions that report writing was always discussed from a deficit model. Police cadets were instructed on how to write a coherent paragraph and use the correct word for a specific meaning. They were also instructed on how to organize the report, detailing the events chronologically. However, the majority of the police academy training I researched was spent on ground-fighting tactics, shooting practice, crime-scene investigation, and multiple-choice test preparation. At the police academy in Arkansas, only 8 hours out of 430 were devoted to report writing (Seawright).

When I asked officers, lawyers, supervisors and others what made a police report a “poor report,” the answers varied wildly. Officers seemed to think that poor grammar created poor reports. Supervisors and chiefs complained about a lack of professionalism in reports. Stephen Mathes, the police chief at Jackson Police Department, complained that “basic grammar” just was not present in police reports. He noted,

We are not just taking a raw recruit and trying to teach them law and                                               police tactics but basic grammar in some instances. . . . [I]f a defense attorney                             picked up a report that was poorly written they are automatically going to                                   say, here is a person I can attack. I can attack credibility.

However, the lawyers I spoke with complained that their most serious concern regarding police reports was the amount of information that was often left out. Two hours after my interview with the Jackson police chief, I sat in the office of Chad Rucker, a local defense attorney, who stressed the importance of the police-officer narrative over grammar in report writing. He emphasized, “Only in telling the story can all the details of the case come to light. Grammar does not matter. It could be written phonetically for all I care, just put down everything that happened.”

So in a matter of hours, a police chief told me that grammar really mattered to defense lawyers, and a defense lawyer told me he could not care less about grammar in reports. How was it that the police report genre could elicit such varied and contradicting expectations from its readers?

Genre of Power: Police Report Writers and Readers in the Justice System tells the story of one police report as it travels through the judicial system. The chapters are organized in order to analyze the writing and reading process of the officer writing the report and the report’s subsequent readers. By highlighting the work that a police report does and the multiple purposes and audiences it must serve, the book ultimately addresses the power dynamics of writers and readers in the judicial system, and examines who is served (or not served) by police reports.

It is important for us and for our students to understand how genres operate in powerful institutions. We can prepare students for these environments by helping them think critically about the role that written texts play in organizations and the complicity employees have in recreating the institution through documents. When students understand the role that employees play in supporting powerful systems, they can better decide what role they want to play or how they might change that role, versus blindly following the dictates of the genre and the system.

[i] Jackson Police Department is an alias.

Leslie Seawright is assistant professor of English at Missouri State University. Seawright’s research interests include workplace communication, community literacy practices, technical writing and intercultural communication.