Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I am a bona-fide PRO!

Oh, how I needed some good news!

I've been invited, along with several of my UNO colleagues, to present a paper at the 2008 Conference on College Communication and Composition!

This is, like, big-time in the comp-rhet world, so I couldn't be more thrilled, particularly because I have just begun looking into a Ph.D. program in comp-rhet at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Yes, that's right: I've decided that I may need to get another dern degree.

For a while I'd been content to just go on about my merry way with my MFA in fiction, teaching hard and earning a pittance for it. I was perfectly fine, even, with knowing that I was viewed as a mere grunt worker (being an instructor, and all--relegated to freshman and sophomore-level teaching, heavy course-loads, and meagre raises).

But what I can't take is that even though I do a LOT of research in the field of rhetoric and composition, and even though I think long and hard about my teaching--changing it to adopt new findings in pedagogy and scholarship--my "word" means little to nothing my colleagues unless I've got the clout (read: a Ph.D.) to back it up. (Sometimes it even feels as though the "real faculty" think I may as well have spent three years making friendship bracelets, so undervalued is my degree and my expertise.)

Realistically, I think one reason why my enthusiasm for the subject of teaching writing may be met by so much--what is it?: incredulity? on the part of my colleagues is that they simply see me as young. If I had a nickel for the number of times I'd excitedly brought up the subject of teaching writing only to have a colleague (jokingly) comment on my being too young (or too fresh) to be jaded.

Well, I've been teaching for almost six years--including summers--and in that admittedly short time I've taught some of the more challenging and difficult groups of students and in some of the more difficult circumstances. I've taught basic writing classes, volunteered teaching ESL classes, and taught nighttime sections (whose nontraditional students haven't been back to school in years and years.) I've taught from 8am until 10pm. I've filled in for teachers who have quit in the middle of the summer, while also working full-time on my degree. I've served on committees and panels, and darnit, I'm still excited!

But I digress.

My CCCC paper is tentatively titled "When Assessment Breaks Your Heart: Assessing Writing Ethically and Empathetically After Katrina." I presented a scaled-down version of what will become my paper at the College English Association's convention in New Orleans last Spring, and my talk was very well received.

Most of what I addressed concerns the difficulty of maintaining our writing and performance assessment standards when both teachers and students are faced with the aftermath of a collective trauma. I also addressed institutional pressures to retain students, and the way that pressure impacts our ability to assess student writing and performance ethically. It may sound like dry stuff, but I've been working on research for months, and I think it's an interesting subject that illustrates a number of complexities surrounding teaching after a collective trauma--although what it doesn't do is offer many answers.

So now, I've got to actually write the paper!

Also, I've been asked to participate in a basic writing workshop that runs concurrent to the CCCC convention. In that workshop, I'll present my methods of using student-teacher conferences, student-authored letters of reflection, and student self-evaluations in the basic-writing classroom (techniques that work at any level, really, but I need to gear my content toward the specific concerns of basic-writing teachers).

And yes, now I've actually got to get to work on that material, too! Phew!

But, OH, how affirmed I feel! I mean, shoot: I feel like a new woman!

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