Preparing College Teachers of Writing: Histories, Theories, Programs, Practices

By Ryan, Kathleen J. | Composition Studies, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Preparing College Teachers of Writing: Histories, Theories, Programs, Practices


Ryan, Kathleen J., Composition Studies


Preparing College Teachers of Writing: Histories, Theories, Programs, Practices, edited by Betty P. Pytlik and Sarah Liggett. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. 352 pages.

Laura Micciche has argued recently that "edited collections have and continue to contribute to the development of composition studies in important ways" (102). Certainly, this is true for the advancement of Writing Program Administration (WPA). Collections like Kitchen Cooks, Plate Twirlers and Troubadours (1999); The Writing Program Administrator's Resource (2002); The Allyn and Bacon Sourcebook for Writing Program Administrators (2001); The Writing Program Administrator as Researcher (1999); and The Writing Program Administrator as Theorist (2002) legitimize WPA as scholarly work and articulate central issues. Like these texts, Preparing College Teachers of Writing: Histories, Theories, Programs, Practices reinforces Writing Program Administration as scholarly inquiry; specifically, the collection takes up an important WPA concern, the professional development of teaching assistants. According to Stephen Wilhoit, TA development has only received significant attention in the last thirty years (17), and Betty Pytlik and Sarah Liggett's collection is an important contribution to this dialogue. New and experienced WPAs, as well as graduate students holding administrative roles or taking WPA courses, will find this text an invaluable resource as they purposefully shape local TA development and reflect on those activities in national and disciplinary contexts. This edited collection serves as an important site of dialogic reflection and invention for current and future WPAs.

Preparing College Teachers of Writing, which assumes teaching is more than recipe-following and learning to teach is an ongoing process, seeks to contribute to conversations about what "facilitates that learning" (xv). To frame this inquiry, the twenty-six essays are organized around the book's subtitle, Histories, Theories, Programs, Practices. Part 1, "History," addresses the history of TA preparation since the mid-nineteenth century, in relationship to the changing job market, and the contexts of the WPA and Purdue University's program. Contributions to Part 2, "Theories," range from the collaborative essay (written by Katrina M. Powell, Peggy O'Neill, Cassandra Mach Phillips, and Brian Huot) "Negotiating Resistance and Change: One Composition Program's Struggle Not to Convert," a discussion of the "theoretically Open'" composition program at the University of Louisville (124), to Christine Harris's essay on a TA development program that teaches composition as cultural studies. According to Pytlik and Liggett, Part 3, "Programs," "provides six models for TA preparation programs in different sites and configurations" (xviii); program models include stand-alone writing programs, MA and PhD programs in English departments, and those that prepare TAs to teach web-based and professional communication courses. Part 4, "Practices," concludes the collection with a focus on specific aspects of TA preparation, like orientation workshops, mentoring programs, and teaching portfolios and notebooks. These sections offer a useful schema for engaging the text, and their titles become key words for effective TA development. The collection emphasizes that design of an effective TA education program depends on an understanding of institutional and disciplinary histories and contexts as well as the necessary connections between theories and practices.

While the four sections help direct readers, particularly those new to TA development, the editors also list reflection, mentoring, and Purdue's program as alternative topics to guide one's reading; this move encourages readers to also read across sections to pursue different lines of inquiry (xxi). As Richard Fulkerson points out in the foreword, reflection emerges as a key concept across the collection (xiii). Reflection, as Donald Schön and Kathleen Yancey have taught us, is integral to approaching learning (to teach or to write) as an explicit, conscious activity; as such, many of the TA development activities discussed here, including journal entries composed in pre-service workshops and portfolios created for practica, have reflective dimensions. …

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