First Time Up

First Time Up: An Insider'S Guide For New Composition Teachers

BROCK DETHIER
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 220
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt4cgqbh
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  • Book Info
    First Time Up
    Book Description:

    "First time up?"-an insider's friendly question from 1960s counter-culture-perfectly captures the spirit of this book. A short, supportive, practical guide for the first-time college composition instructor, the book is upbeat, wise but friendly, casual but knowledgeable (like the voice that may have introduced you to certain other firsts). With an experiential focus rather than a theoretical one, First Time Up will be a strong addition to the newcomer's professional library, and a great candidate for the TA practicum reading list.

    Dethier, author of The Composition Instructor's Survival Guide and From Dylan to Donne, directly addresses the common headaches, nightmares, and epiphanies of composition teaching-especially the ones that face the new teacher. And since legions of new college composition teachers are either graduate instructors (TAs) or adjuncts without a formal background in composition studies, he assumes these folks as his primary audience.

    Dethier's voice is casual, but it conveys concern, humor, experience, and reassurance to the first-timer. He addresses all major areas that graduate instructors or new adjuncts in a writing program are sure to face, from career anxiety to thoughts on grading and keeping good classroom records. Dethier's own eclecticism is well-represented here, but he reviews with considerable deftness the value of contemporary scholarship to first-time writing instructors-many of whom will be impatient with high theory. Throughout the work, he affirms a humane, confident approach to teaching, along with a true affection for college students and for teachers just learning to deal with them.

    eISBN: 978-0-87421-521-2
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. ix-x)

    This book is for people about to teach college composition for the first time ever . . . or for the first time at a particular school . . . or for the first time with the greater independence generally given to adjuncts. It doesn’t assume anything about readers or their knowledge of composition—except that they have an interest in teaching well and with enjoyment.

    Based on thirty years of teaching composition and a decade of teaching and supervising composition instructors, this book responds both to concerns of my own that I had when I first began to teach...

  5. 1 WHY YOU’VE MADE THE RIGHT CHOICE
    (pp. 1-21)

    I know, it’s pretty cheesy to start a book with a line stolen from someone else’s opener. You may think I’m just being lazy, but that isn’t my only motivation. As a new composition teacher, you need to get used to borrowing, whether from veterans like me, founding fathers like Murray, or your officemate whose class ends just before yours begins. If you think you’re going to do everything your own way, not follow anyone’s footsteps, you’ll blow fuses before you turn in your first set of grades. Teaching composition is, and as far as I can tell always has...

  6. 2 PREPARING
    (pp. 22-40)

    Some people postpone worry and stress by simply not thinking about upcoming tasks until they absolutely have to, then running around frantically trying to get everything done, hoping that nothing breaks or goes awry and that they’ve accurately predicted how much time they will need. This chapter, and indeed much of this book, is not for such people. It’s for worriers like me, people who are quite certain that something will go wrong and who can best reduce their stress by imagining what will break and readying the materials they will need to fix it or head off catastrophe.

    One...

  7. 3 RESOURCES
    (pp. 41-52)

    I am a self-sufficient loner. I hike alone, I ski alone, I play music by myself. I change my own flat tires, I read maps rather than ask for directions, I’d rather drive by myself for days than play elbow hockey with boorish cell phoners in germ-drenched airplanes.

    But I don’t teach alone. Yes, I’m usually the only “professor” in the room. I don’t team-teach or borrow lesson plans anymore. But I feel very lucky that at the formative time of my career, I got to work with the world’s most generous mentor, Don Murray, and a writing community that...

  8. 4 THE FIRST DAY
    (pp. 53-62)

    First days are the worst days. A good mantra if you have a bad first class. Amid the inevitable confusion and chaos, we have little chance to make real contact or get the grateful feedback that sustains us. Foul-ups with the roll, the room, or the equipment eat up time, and even veterans often feel frazzled.

    I fear only experience can bring the alternative view of first days—to look out on the sea of new faces and guess and wonder. Who will be the smart ones? The good writers? The friendly, appreciative ones I’ll always be glad to see...

  9. 5 GRADING, ATTENDANCE, AND OTHER PAINS-IN-THE-BUTT
    (pp. 63-81)

    Teaching in the age of litigation sometimes becomes a defensive game. We have to establish rules and policies not for the one hundred students each year who act like reasonable, civil human beings but for the one per year (or decade) who acts like a bad lawyer on steroids, tries to get away with dereliction in your class, and then searches your syllabus with a magnifier to find the loophole that permits loutish behavior.

    So in grading and other crucial issues, we need to prepare for the worst. While that may be a depressing task, it helps us not to...

  10. 6 WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THEORY (FOR NOW)
    (pp. 82-98)

    I suppose as an undergrad I heard the word “theory” and perhaps fretted that I didn’t know enough about it. But I wasn’t forced to confront theory’s haughty stare until my first semester of graduate school, when I took a course in theory taught by E. D. Hirsch, Jr., later to achieve national notoriety for his books about cultural literacy. Hirsch assumed you knew the ideas of Heidegger, Husserl, and the hermeneutics crowd, and I quickly found myself drowning. On the first paper I got a “pass” (which at Virginia was failing), and I knew I had to get a...

  11. 7 CONFIDENT AND HUMBLE And Other Contradictions We Live By
    (pp. 99-107)

    Composition is a world of contradictions. Perhaps our most popular formula for good writing—“clear and concise”—wars with itself: clear usually means more detail, more length. Teachers who don’t recognize the paradoxical nature of our work may get frustrated listening to (or giving) conflicting advice: “Meet with your students as often as possible . . . but you gotta have a life of your own to stay sane.” If we recognize the oxymoronic nature of much composition advice—or, to switch metaphors, the delicate balancing act between extremes—we can search for our own balance point rather than be...

  12. 8 AVOIDING STRESS
    (pp. 108-133)

    Stress is like pain tolerance or writing speed: we’ll never know whether we feel and react exactly the way others do, or whether by the world’s standards we’re unique, over- or under-reacting. Is my job more or less stressful than an air traffic controller’s or a wine taster’s? I’m clueless. But I wouldn’t trade.

    Despite such ignorance, I can compare the stress caused by various jobs and activities I’ve engaged in and therefore predict (and sometimes reduce) the likelihood that I’ll feel stressed in a particular week. My list may be very different from someone else’s. I know, for instance,...

  13. 9 NIGHTMARES
    (pp. 134-154)

    Think twice before reading this chapter. I’ll probably bring up some frightening scenarios that you haven’t imagined yet. And I can tell you right now that I don’t have fast, sure solutions to any of these nightmares—they wouldn’t be nightmares if they were easy to solve or avoid. You might want to skip this chapter and return only when you actually face one of the problems identified in the sub-heads. But if you’re feeling courageous, plunge ahead for some combination of these reasons:

    1. If you ponder these scenes, you’ll be in a better position to avoid them or to...

  14. 10 OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM
    (pp. 155-161)

    At first, most novice teachers focus on their hours in the classroom; they’re the newest, most intense aspect of teaching, the part that may resemble nothing else in the young teacher’s life. But as the teacher gains experience and the hours in the classroom become more routine, life outside the classroom becomes more important until, for long-term veterans and tenure-track faculty, the classroom comes to feel like a sanctuary from endless meetings, conferences, and non-teaching paperwork.

    You won’t spend much time outside the classroom soon, but decisions made and habits formed early in a teaching career may set a pattern...

  15. 11 BUILDING YOUR FUTURE
    (pp. 162-171)

    Immersed in a semester of teaching composition, you’ll find it almost impossible to think about the future, especially a future beyond turning in your last grades of the semester. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’m not going to urge you to raise your periscope every few days, look at the Big Picture, and adjust your daily activities. In this chapter, I want to get you to see how you are building your future just by doing your job. Teaching composition may seem like a professional dead end, but as you do it, you learn a wide variety of...

  16. THE LAST WORD
    (pp. 172-173)
  17. Appendix A YES, YOU MAY But Not Everyone Agrees
    (pp. 174-176)
  18. Appendix B MOTIVATION THROUGH METAPHOR
    (pp. 177-179)
    Charles Woodard
  19. Appendix C ANOTHER OBNOXIOUS QUESTIONNAIRE
    (pp. 180-180)
  20. Appendix D IN DEFENSE OF SUBJECTIVE GRADING
    (pp. 181-185)
  21. Appendix E TEACHING ACADEMIC INTEGRITY
    (pp. 186-201)
    Susan Andersen and Brock Dethier
  22. REFERENCES
    (pp. 202-205)
  23. INDEX
    (pp. 206-208)