First Time Up: An Insider's Guide for New Composition Instructors

First Time Up: An Insider's Guide for New Composition Instructors

First Time Up: An Insider's Guide for New Composition Instructors

First Time Up: An Insider's Guide for New Composition Instructors


"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.


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 and to those of teachers just entering graduate school now. It builds on ideas about improving students’ and teachers’ attitudes that I have been exploring throughout my career. It attempts to ease new teachers through their first year, providing advice, resources, and insights to help them overcome their fears and make painless and fun what can be a tense time.

This is not a career guide. My Composition Instructor’s Survival Guide, Wilhoit’s The Allyn & Bacon Teaching Assistant’s Handbook, Haswell & Lu’s Comp Tales, and anthologies like Corbett, Myers, and Tate’s The Writing Teacher’s Sourcebook or Roen’s Strategies for Teaching First-Year Composition can provide readers with a more comprehensive sense of the concerns of experienced composition teachers. the issues I discuss do, however, have relevance to everyone in the composition community. Even someone who has taught twenty “first classes” will find something new and amusing to try in my “First Day” chapter, fresh ideas about resources in Chapter 3, and, in Chapter 11, a more positive way to view the skills that writing teachers practice.

The book reflects the limitations of my experience as well as its depths. I do not attempt to give advice about severe behavioral problems, “basic” writers, English Language Learners, learning disabilities, team teaching, online or high-tech courses, or working with ethnic, racial, or cultural minorities. I simply haven’t dealt with those issues enough to establish authority about them; you’d be better off consulting experts in those fields rather than reading something secondhand from me.

Having abandoned the idea of making this book a complete guide to teaching composition, I concentrated on making it a slim volume, a . . .

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