State of the Field: Comp Teaching

In reading the last three chair speeches from the CCCC, I have been forced to re-evaluate my own praxis. What I have read across the board focuses on a specific type of community building, one that values all voices and seeks rhetoric in expression and not simply on paper. While my investment in Ernst Bloch’s utopian project of bringing peripheral/potential realities into reality has already led me to rethink how students come together in my classroom through peer interaction, I have not given quite enough thought to who can come and how they prefer to engage. Some of this comes from unfamiliarity with certain forms of diversity, but the area of which I was already cognizant is in the use of various media for projects. I was challenged last year in a presentation on multi-modal composition practices and again through contributing to DRC’s multi-modal/multi-lingual blog carnival to think further about the forms of communication I privilege, but in the confusion of switching programs from UAH to GSU and all the changes that moving and having a baby bring, I clung ever more closely to a paper-based model of assignment as I planned my syllabus. I am currently working personally in the sites so that I can present this as a space for students to practice rhetoric in a more authentic platform in the future, and hopefully the spring semester will find me well situated enough to pull in more modes of communication beyond just prose (although my logophilia will always desire written words and prose!). Thankfully my composition pedagogy class requires me to reframe an assignment within a more technological approach, which will help lay the groundwork for a more immersive syllabus for the spring semester.

One other issue that affects me directly is the awareness of the “exploitation of contingent faculty” (Anson “2013 CCCC Chair’s Address: Climate Change” CCC 65.2 338). To accept the GTA position at GSU, my wife and I had to sit and crunch numbers to see if the stipend I’m allotted could cover not just childcare but increased gas consumption, higher car insurance from an increase in miles driven, and the overall time needed to commute from Cherokee county to downtown Atlanta. My dream of being Dr. Grimm is great, but the material conditions almost forbade at least the timing of our decision. Further, I’ve noticed that programs seem set up to exploit this labor further. My father, who earned a Ph.D. in nuclear physics from Georgia Tech in the 1970s, did four years of undergrad, two of masters work, and two of Ph.D. work. That was the model I thought would apply to my coursework as well back when I enrolled in a terminal MA program at UAH, but I found not long after that English is set up to exploit far more years of teaching before the Ph.D. could be granted. I did two and a half years for my MA and am staring down an average of four years at an accelerated pace for my doctorate. Perhaps I fall into the demographic of those who are simply seeking a degree as a form of labor marketing also referenced in Anson’s speech, but what I realize alongside that is that two institutions will have benefited from years of low-paid labor as my small family braces for hard times and my wife patiently bears the burden of being the primary (almost sole) wage earner for our family of three.

But what these institutions know they can bank on is the desire I hold to enter this field. As I have joked with students before, if I was in this for the money I either wouldn’t have majored in English to begin with or I would be in a foreign developed country teaching English for a much higher profit margin. What I love, though, is the collegiate atmosphere. I love that my students in composition one come to class ready to write and talk, many already metacognitively aware of their own writing processes and able and willing to speak to their current skills. I love that students ask me about books or tell me about writing projects they enjoy, and as the semester wears on I will get more and more invested in their research projects, gladly talking to them about it and offering help anywhere and everywhere I can. I love watching students who entered day one as strangers start to develop friendships from assignments I require them to do together. I love seeing students meeting outside of the classroom, even if it’s not for a scholarly pursuit per se. I love being part of the community that each of the last three CCCC chairs encourage and elevate, and their comments and critiques help remind me that community can’t be stagnant. It must keep moving, which means I must keep learning and taking risks for my students.

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