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So, for the past year I've been an adjunct at my MA school, teaching Freshman Comp and Freshman Lit. It's been a real learning experience (especially since I'd never had any pedagogy classes or guidance on how to teach Composition), and I think it's probably prepared me a lot for taking on a TA job at the PhD level.

I've got two schools to consider now, Denver and UArk. At UArk I'd be doing the whole TA-as-instructor-of-record thing, which would involve running a classroom and all the things I've learned to do over this past year. At Denver, I'd be working in their Writing Center, and I don't quite know what that entails. By all accounts, Writing Center work sounds a lot more personal and tutor-y (both of which are fine!), but since I've never been in one I don't know if that's an accurate impression.

Anybody have any experience at a writing center you can share? Just so I know, should I go Denver, what I'm getting into?

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1 hour ago, Melvillage_Idiot said:

Anybody have any experience at a writing center you can share? Just so I know, should I go Denver, what I'm getting into?

Me! I've been working in a writing center for two years. 

Before I get into why I love them, I will say I'd consider whether you will get any TA experience at Denver, or if you'd be all writing center, all the time. I know that getting the instructor-of-record experience is important for getting an academic job later on, so do look into that for this position (I know that some are WC for one year, teach for 2 years, WC for the last year, etc, so you get both experiences). So, make sure you know what you'll need for a job search. 

WC work is usually 1-1 tutoring, although "tutoring" is not really the right word. It's 1-1 work on someone's writing, but you do your best to help them figure out what they want to say (rather than prescribing what to say, etc) by asking open-ended questions ("What do you notice in this paragraph?" "What are you trying to say?" "What are you most concerned about in this piece of writing?"). Ideally, you're helping them gain transferable skills that make them a better writer rather than just producing one piece of better writing, ya know? Personally, I feel I've become a much better writer because of my WC work--it's made me a more patient teacher, and it's also helped me focus my thoughts when I look at my own writing. Writing centers are also very progressive, open-minded places and tend to be very feminist in the underlying theory that drives them. (If Denver offers a writing center course, I'd recommend taking it!) It's also a less common experience that may help you stand out, especially if there's an opportunity to be in an admin spot in addition to tutoring. 

This is a super short explanation, so please ask or message me if you want more information! 

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3 hours ago, Melvillage_Idiot said:

Anybody have any experience at a writing center you can share? Just so I know, should I go Denver, what I'm getting into?

Yes!

I've tutored in writing centers for many years and direct one now. I'd be very happy to chat with you via PM if you have questions. 

@midwest-ford made several great points about the overlaps between tutoring, teaching, and producing writing. I'll add that, of all the jobs I've ever had, nothing beats working 1:1 and helping another person to effectively communicate their ideas. That same 1:1 interaction is my favorite part of teaching, too.

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I've worked both in writing center and as instructor-of-record. It's a rewarding experience that has helped me turn around and teach those first-year writing courses as instructor-of-record. Even with your experience adjuncting, it might be good to do for a year; instead of just knowing the common writing mistakes, you'll learn why students make these mistakes and what they prioritize (wrongly) while writing.

I would say, though, if Denver has you in the writing center for the bulk of your degree, that might be an odd choice. Even if they do have it mapped out to where you'll eventually jump to instructor-of-record after a few years in the writing center, you may only get the experience of teaching FYW before you finish your PhD. I imagine, given what I've gathered from your interests, that you will eventually want to be instructor-of-record for at least second-year literature survey courses (i.e. Am lit prior to the civil war), if not also special topic courses. There seems to be a common path that programs offer lit folks, which I feel that eventual employers will expect (Y1- WC or assisting a big class, Y2- teach FYW, Y3- teach survey, Y4- teach special topic, Y5+ - research).

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I'm looking at a program that starts teaching in third year with ta-ing and "shadowing" then in fourth year people teach courses they've designed. I'm wondering about how this amount of teaching will be perceived on a CV. I'm also not committed to teaching so I'm not sure if I should weigh that factor too much.

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Thanks for the advice, gang. I figured the environment would be a lot more 1-on-1, which I'm totally fine with; I've done my best to incorporate that sort of interaction in my composition classes as an adjunct, to mixed success (last semester it went wonderfully, but this semester...not so much). I got to do a lot of individualized help when I was a TA here, so I know I enjoy it and how much it can really help a student.

@CulturalCriminal, since you mentioned it, Denver only requires that students work in the WC their first year. After that, they can become instructor of record or move to other positions (usually editorial/reading gigs for the university's journals). I wouldn't necessarily be locked into that sort of work the whole time, nor would I want to be; as important as first-year writing is for students, it is absolutely not the focus of my research or what I want to study down the line.

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10 hours ago, Melvillage_Idiot said:

 

@CulturalCriminal, since you mentioned it, Denver only requires that students work in the WC their first year. After that, they can become instructor of record or move to other positions (usually editorial/reading gigs for the university's journals). I wouldn't necessarily be locked into that sort of work the whole time, nor would I want to be; as important as first-year writing is for students, it is absolutely not the focus of my research or what I want to study down the line.

 

One of the other benefits of WC assignments that people often talk about is the lighter workload in terms of weekly/semesterly contact hours. I also want to throw in that the type of intellectual labor you perform in the writing center will be pretty different from what you do as the instructor-of-record. For one thing, there's obviously no grading if you work in the WC, which means your working hours will be pretty clearly delineated. When you're the instructor, it's easy to lose whole days, weekends, weeks to grading, lesson planning, and all the other contingent activities that take up time beyond your FTE status. For that reason, I think working in the WC for the first year can be a really helpful transition. That would also allow you to witness the culture of writing at the institution before you dive into teaching there. 

It sounds like the setup at Denver would offer you a nice variety of options. The more experience you have, the more you learn about your own interests, the more you can understand other specialists in your field, and the more versatile you'll be on the job market.

 

 

On 2/20/2018 at 5:27 PM, unicornsarereal said:

I'm looking at a program that starts teaching in third year with ta-ing and "shadowing" then in fourth year people teach courses they've designed. I'm wondering about how this amount of teaching will be perceived on a CV. I'm also not committed to teaching so I'm not sure if I should weigh that factor too much.

Well, I think the answer to this question ultimately comes down to where you want to work after your degree. If you're looking to work at a CC or SLAC, you have to have quality teaching experience. Quantity of experience means more practice, more opportunities to implement course evaluation feedback, and more mileage on your teaching gauge. If you're aiming for an R1 gig, then you will also need some teaching experience. The more diverse, the better, especially if you'd be expected to teach graduate courses. I was on a few hiring committees, and we had several conversations about applicants from prestigious programs who had incredible research agendas but very little teaching experience. In several cases, we passed over more prestigious looking applicants in favor of folks who had more balance between their scholarship and research. I'm sure others will chime in here though as I'm sure my experiences aren't representative of 100% of cases. 

As a final caveat though, I'll say that, in my experience, English departments tend to be viewed as "service" departments to their home institutions. In other words, the powers that be may think of the English department more as a place that churns out freshman writing courses than as a place where students get to productively geek out about novels and poetry. So in the eyes of those higher powers, you'd need to be able to "contribute" by teaching. At the very least, be prepared to talk about intersections between your research and teaching. 

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36 minutes ago, EspritHabile said:

One of the other benefits of WC assignments that people often talk about is the lighter workload in terms of weekly/semesterly contact hours. I also want to throw in that the type of intellectual labor you perform in the writing center will be pretty different from what you do as the instructor-of-record. For one thing, there's obviously no grading if you work in the WC, which means your working hours will be pretty clearly delineated. When you're the instructor, it's easy to lose whole days, weekends, weeks to grading, lesson planning, and all the other contingent activities that take up time beyond your FTE status. For that reason, I think working in the WC for the first year can be a really helpful transition. That would also allow you to witness the culture of writing at the institution before you dive into teaching there. 

It sounds like the setup at Denver would offer you a nice variety of options. The more experience you have, the more you learn about your own interests, the more you can understand other specialists in your field, and the more versatile you'll be on the job market.

 

 

Well, I think the answer to this question ultimately comes down to where you want to work after your degree. If you're looking to work at a CC or SLAC, you have to have quality teaching experience. Quantity of experience means more practice, more opportunities to implement course evaluation feedback, and more mileage on your teaching gauge. If you're aiming for an R1 gig, then you will also need some teaching experience. The more diverse, the better, especially if you'd be expected to teach graduate courses. I was on a few hiring committees, and we had several conversations about applicants from prestigious programs who had incredible research agendas but very little teaching experience. In several cases, we passed over more prestigious looking applicants in favor of folks who had more balance between their scholarship and research. I'm sure others will chime in here though as I'm sure my experiences aren't representative of 100% of cases. 

As a final caveat though, I'll say that, in my experience, English departments tend to be viewed as "service" departments to their home institutions. In other words, the powers that be may think of the English department more as a place that churns out freshman writing courses than as a place where students get to productively geek out about novels and poetry. So in the eyes of those higher powers, you'd need to be able to "contribute" by teaching. At the very least, be prepared to talk about intersections between your research and teaching. 

Thank, this is all very helpful! I'll be thinking a lot about whether I want to pursue teaching and thus prioritize it at a school. 

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I'm kind of repeating what has already been said, but working in a Writing Center really helps you with your own writing. It's like a crash course in grammar, sentence structure, citations, and paragraph flow. I have a much stronger grasp on concepts, because I have to explain them to students every day. I can finally point out active/passive voice (which always confused me) and having the burden of explaining rules to students means that you actually must understand the rules. Sometimes you have to say "uhh this part needs a comma, because....that's just uhh how English works." Generally speaking, though, there is a logic behind the construction of the English language and it's so helpful to examine those principles. Obviously, you aren't just a copyeditor; you're more like a 5th grade grammar or logic instructor. "How does this fit into your main argument?" "Here you say this, but you contradict it in the paragraph before." "Okay, I explained this rule in the previous sentence; what do you need to change here?" Sometimes students need you to explain APA citations and you've never done them either, but you figure it out. Sometimes I'll turn to a colleague and ask how they would explain the difference between gerunds and present participles. You just re-learn so much through the sessions. It can be frustrating that you can't just grab it from them and fix it, but I think writing center work is invaluable.

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So I'll share my experience. I've been an instructor of record through my TAship for the past two years and worked in the Writing Center over the summer. My experiences may not be the same as everywhere, but they are pretty accurate for the department.

As a TA, I've had a lot of freedom in how I run my classroom and what I teach. I've gained a lot of experience teaching that I think will help me out a lot when I go on the job market. I've created my own syllabi, lesson plans, assigned the papers, readings, and homework I wanted, etc. So far all my offers have also been a teaching assistantship. Currently I teach a 1:1 courseload that amounts to about 20 hours a week, and that's what I've been assigned through my offers as well. I will add though that 1:1 is way different than 2:2 and 20 hours as a TA is different than 20 hours as a WC assistant. The biggest benefit at my university to being a TA is the flexibility. Other than my classtime, I get to choose when my office hours are. I can grade from home (in my pjs with the tv on in the background). Our department has less required meetings than our writing center, and I get an office space (shared, but still a desk and key and my own space). 

Our writing center assistantship is also 20 hours, but those hours look a lot different. For our GAs this is 13 hours of consulting appointments and 7 hours of "project time." For the most part these hours have to be logged at the Writing Center (although occasionally meetings are done off campus). You have to account for your time and most WC meetings are mandatory. Most students in our department feel that the assistantships although payed the same, are not equal. 

There are benefits though.Our consultants work on various projects (like language statements for the centers, training materials, pedagogy research), and usually they let you pick which projects you work on. Over the summer I worked on 2 projects, a group that redesigned our online appointment training and another project that was a pilot program for a digital and multimodal lab. Many projects have opportunities for publishing and they look great on a CV. Additionally, if you are a very social person you may find the Writing Center to be more comfortable. Most of our consultants are close and there can be a lot of downtime to hangout (when appointments are cancelled or when you're working on projects). Lastly, and this is a big one in our department, the WC folk are way more likely to get a summer assistantship. For our department MA summer funding is not guaranteed, especially since there aren't many classes to teach over the summer (and they are set aside for PhD people). The Writing Center, however, is open all year. If you want to be a Writing Center Program Administrator, then you'll need WC experience. 

Keep in mind also, that while many programs will hire writing center tutors hourly (over the summer or during the school year), most will not let Writing Center people teach an extra class. So you might want to see if UArk has the potential to give you some WC experience even if you have a TAship. 

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