Revolution Lullabye

June 24, 2015

Hesse, Politics and the WPA: Traveling Through and Past Realms of Expertise

Hesse, Douglas D. “Politics and the WPA: Traveling Through and Past Realms of Expertise.” The Writing Program Administrator’s Resource: A Guide to Reflective Institutional Practice. Eds. Stuart C. Brown and Theresa Enos. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., 2002. Print. 41-58. Print.

Hesse explains how WPAs can approach the political nature of their work in a way that is productive and ethical. He describes aspects of academic politics that affect a WPA: that disciplinary knowledge or credentials aren’t as highly valued in administration as one might think, and that most decisions circulate around the debate for material resources. His chapter discusses how a WPA must act politically, keeping in mind these two principles, in four different spheres: the department, the institution, the profession, and the public.

Notable Notes

In departmental politics – 1. know how things work and how things get done, 2. write down (and publish) policies (these are more efficient, have more authority, can be used for faculty development, focuses the work of the department) , 3. Develop an ethos grounded in “expertise, competence, sensitivity to local situations, and the pursuit of the greater good” (44), 4. Write reports that have hard data about the students and faculty in the writing courses; 5. Create structured processes with timetables to get things done – these establish legitimacy and help with efficiency.

In institutional politics – institutions are usually conservative, don’t change rapidly or easily (46). Gives two examples of his own political work – one successful, one not. His advice: 1. “Have a place at the table” in discussions that are ultimately about resources by being on university-wide committees (48), 2. Know the people you’re talking with and that you’re competing with, 3. Be known in informal situations as well as formal (“Come to the parties” (49)), 4. Frame arguments in terms of resources, not just philosophy/disciplinary knowledge

In disciplinary/professional politics – 1. Know the past and present work/guidelines/statements published by the discipline’s professional organization; 2. Get involved in the organizations, network and do good work, 3. Get disciplinary organizations to sponsor your work (example of the CWPA Outcomes Statement)

In the public and larger higher ed – 1. Write for public audiences, tell the story you do instead of responding to attacks or accusations; 2. Network with people in other institutions and work together to make change; 3. Get on committees – state assessment boards, other education boards

WPAs need to know how to argue for material resources (42).

He argues that WPAs should prepare themselves to do political work by paying attention to the history of higher ed, the conversations happening in higher ed scholarship and journals.

Quotable Quotes

“Though WPAs wearing the ermine mantle of composition czar may set the curriculum for a course, they rarely can unilaterally set class sizes or faculty salaries. They need action by individuals with the official power to do so. Because the quality of a writing program depends largely on the conditions in which the program exists, and because the WPA has limited control of those situations, political action is vital” (41-42).

“For a good deal of their work, WPAs simply must be politicians – and, of course, rhetoricians.” (41).

In departments: “But beyond the program, especially in academic structures increasingly (and paradoxically) organized hierarchically with a professional managerial administration, WPAs often have to act with a decisiveness that may exceed their democratic sensibilities” (43).

“Second, WPAs must separate political outcomes from senses of their own worth. Unfavorable outcomes invite WPAs to doubt their abilities. But resources are finite, and expertise is lodged many places in the academy and culture. In a world where even Richard Nixon can be twice reborn, it makes most sense to understand your personae as content expert and as politician to be entwined but ultimately separable, each with endless opportunity for extension and application” (57).

June 9, 2015

Phelps, Becoming a Warrior: Lessons of the Feminist Workplace

Phelps. Louise Wetherbee. “Becoming a Warrior: Lessons of the Feminist Workplace.” Feminine Principles and Women’s Experience in American Composition and Rhetoric. Eds. Louise Wetherbee Phelps and Janet Emig. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 1995. Print. 289-339.

Phelps explores how women in the academy, specifically women writing program administrators, can take up, assume, and use power. She points out that when she became a writing program administrator, she did not have a model or theory available to her about how she, as a woman and as a compositionist, could accept and use the institutional power invested in her administrative position. Phelps argues against the idea that power is antithetical to feminist principles; rather, she argues for a conception of feminist power that is productive, generative, and expansive, one that allows for both a strong executive leader and distributed, collaborative, asymmetrical authority. She works in this essay to “construct a more adequately complex and nuanced feminism” (300). She asks “what it might be meant by feminist” in the context of assuming power and writing program administration (300).

Phelps uses her own experiences as the writing program administrator and Director of the Syracuse Writing Program to investigate the paradoxes and complexities of power for women, composition/writing programs, and female leaders in the academy and writing program administrators. Phelps discusses how she worked to create layered, asymmetrical groupings through the coordinating groups and other Writing Program task forces and committees. Phelps also describes the resistance she faced from her teachers when she asserted power or used rhetoric in a centralized, directed way (through talks to the program or published director’s writings.)

Phelps draws on the work done to explain the multifaceted feminization of composition within the academy (teaching as women’s work, nurturing work of the writing classroom, composition without institutional power or control, practice v. theory, low status of contingent faculty who teach composition, writing as skill.) She defines power as productive and generative, not coercive. Power, according to Phelps, can allow for positive influence, though she avoids sweeping utopian positions and generalizations. Phelps argues for the role of a strong executive in program leadership – a strong leader who can wield centralized authority can represent and argue for the program as a whole in an institutionally-recognizable way. At the end of her piece, Phelps calls for more work that interrogates her central paradox: the necessity of power within institutions and for leadership, and the implications of that power and its creations for feminists, for women, and for composition.

Notable Notes

Central architecture of the argument:

  1. “Invitation to Power” – reviews the feminization of composition, WPA work, and sexism in the academy. Calls for a definition/understanding of the feminist power, a model for how a feminist might use and assume power ethically and for good.
  1. “Constructing and Complicating the Feminist Workplace” – argues that the workplace of composition is already feminist (writing/English classroom gives discursive authority to women; composition classroom has embraced feminist pedagogical principles; the predominance of women within the workplace of composition means that women have a disproportionate chance to benefit from composition workplaces that give them opportunities to lead and learn). Explains her decision to become the WPA at Syracuse: “it was vaguely but genuinely a moral decision responding to the summons to take up responsibility toward others, to act on my convictions” (306). Describes how she envisioned developing an inquiry-based writing program that depended on the creative power of the teachers and her emerging ideas of what it meant to be a leader. Explains the paradox of power and agency and responsibility: agency is not ultimately freeing, with power comes discipline, rules, and responsibility, and professionalization will not improve the working conditions of all because not all will be able to participate. Explains how she built the program purposefully around asymmetry, not symmetry.
  2. “Lessons of the Feminist Workplace” – organized complexity, bravery

The WPA role itself is feminized – it is marginal, instable within the academy’s institutional structure: “More truly marginal than in the feminist sense, we are like animals of the tidal zone, neither sea nor land creatures” (291).

You have a choice, as a WPA, to accept or reject a position of power. But where does rejecting leave us? (292)

Names the problems of a utopian feminist vision, where power is shared equally, symmetrically, without hierarchy (293) – how this is not workable in a workplace. Names the potential negatives of a woman-centered workplace (301).

Explains how in her first few years as the Director of the Syracuse Writing Program, she did not see her situation as gendered (she did not recognize the reaction of others – both those teachers within the program and higher administrators – as rooted in sexism.) Phelps was more focused on the feminized status of composition within the university (specifically at Syracuse.) (296-297)

The reaction to women (and composition) – the reactions of “exclusion” and “devaluation” – “do not go away when the door opens a crack and we squeeze in” (299).

Phelps notes throughout that these memories – writing about these moments – is painful and hard.

De-centering authority (in a classroom, in a program) requires authority (304). To have the choice to de-center authority means that you have the institutional power to make that choice, decision.

Phelps discusses her reasons for taking up the position of Director of the Syracuse Writing Program, why she made this choice (306). At the time, it was not a gendered decision – she wanted to enact her vision of literacy, composition within a teaching community (306).

Discussion of how she thought through the ethics of WPA work, of relying on teacher’s intellectual energy, of coming to terms with contingent labor (308-310; especially her responsibility to the teachers and ethical employment on 313-315; giving teachers options through professional development 317-318).

The teaching community and empowering teachers’ own individual agency is central to her vision of the writing program (309-310)

The program’s most basic right: “Its right to try” (315) – that means the right of the teachers to try, to design, to grow, to experiment.

The material benefits a writing program can offer are never going to be enough to offset the work and low pay and low status of teaching composition (317).

Those teachers “who exploit these opportunities for development will gain options: they will have more choices about staying there or moving on” (318).

The “killer dichotomy” (Ann Berthoff) – that the ideal of a “flattened hierarchy”/symmetry and complete shared power versus the idea of a determinist hierarchy of power, that the power structure in place can’t be challenged or disrupted (320)

In her asymmetrical organization, she relied on three “significant asymmetries” – 1. “institutional authority”; 2. “attributes of competence”; and 3. “commitment or investment of oneself in the program.” Phelps tried to “subvert” #1 with #2 and #3, but maintained that #1 (executive power, authority through position or degree or credential) is important for the program as a whole and the people in it. (322)

Power as influence versus power as coercion (322-323)

She saw the empowerment of her program as emerging from three things: 1. Enabling conditions (both two-way communication and a director that encourages/articulates teachers’ own understandings of the program); 2. Structures (creating, revising structures and starting new traditions that form a community); 3. Exemplification (naming, modeling, “dramatizing” the principles and strategies of the program so that they are visible) (323-326)

Program v. department rhetoric (program as productive, community, cohesive) (327)

Discusses the importance of community in creating a program that works – people want to feel a sense of belonging (though the backlash against insular, “insider” communities.) Belonging to the community is a benefit for its members (327)

the idea that we are not in a utopia – we work in a workplace


Quotable Quotes

“As a writing program administrator, what I find incomplete or inadequate in these characterizations of feminization is that they fail to analyze the problem of empowerment or help us meet it when it actually comes – accompanied by its own paradoxes and discrepancies between appearance and reality, marked by lags, slippages, and regressions, but genuinely different for all that. The meaning of composition’s gendering is not immutably fixed but is suspectible to transformation (though not simple reversal) when its members, and particularly its women, begin to pursue their intellectual projects and enact their values with confidence and some measure of institutional support” (290-291).

“Yet analyses of composition as feminized can never fully anticipate the shift in the problem space that occurs when we begin to move into the tidal zone of power, nor the peculiar challenges of a transitional period. They do not contemplate the guilt and ambivalence and jealousies that will inevitably accompany accession to power; nor do they confront the radical transformation it requires in both strategies and moral understandings” (291-292).

“In short, our current understanding of the feminization of composition provides neither ethical nor strategic guidance in ‘right action,’ either for women who, as senior faculty and administrators, must learn to exercise power wisely or for the field as it begins to acquire resources, centrality to an institution’s mission, and the increased clout that goes with this position. Handling our own power, that is, coming to terms with the ineluctable authority of the writing teacher, is a central, unresolved problem for feminist classroom pedagogy. It becomes acute when the domains and forces involved are larger: programs, departments, institutions, disciplines, and the winds of social change that are sweeping over all of them” (293).

Reject pessimistic visions of power: “For the moment, I will simply say this: if as feminists we are arguing for broadly distributed power and access, we must be prepared to imagine that one can ethically have visions, lead, and wield power despite the imperfectability of institutions and the tragic limitations of human action” (293).

“What I missed here (just as well, since it might have paralyzed me with cynicism or despair) was the triple burden created for the woman leader in composition by the intertwinings of power with gender, teaching, and writing” (297).

“What I had yet to learn, on the bones, was the circuit of devaluation that runs from women in general to women’s work to composition as a feminized discipline and back to the concrete institutional project – the writing program as an enterprise, and its people. The program as a project is ignored as an intellectual force or set of ideas insofar as it is perceived as a bunch of women doing a remedial service; dismissed or critiqued (as requiring structure and external control) insofar as its practices are perceived as soft and feminine; vilified insofar as its values and leaders are perceived as dangerously, powerfully ‘feminist; or simply because it begins to be too successful in a competitive environment. Such attitudes get an extra jolt from the enormous ego investment most people have in their own writing and in moralistic beliefs about what counts as ‘good writing.’

Too often, these intense feelings are concentrated and discharged malevolently on the embodied persons of the women, teachers and leaders alike, who construct their program and teach composition with bravery, fear, and ambivalence.” (297-298). The whole writing program was devalued, suffered from layers of sexism

In the end, the story is about joy:

“Finally, though, these painful emotions are not at the core of my experience as a woman directing a writing program, nor should their distorting effects be allowed to define sourly the enterprise or the community. They are simply the penumbra. The core is joy: the fun, the ingenuity, the collaboration, the exhilaration when something works, the laughter, the leap, the learning. What compels my attention, my passion, and my intellectual interest as a feminist is the thrill of possibility in our accession to power; the moral, practical, and rhetorical complexities that we encounter in daily work on constructive projects in real-world contexts; the feminism that might arise in such a crucible” (299).

The organization of writing programs as unique in the academy: “As organizations, writing programs combine a certain boundedness, recognizability, and clear definition as communities (delimited in space, in membership, in curricular purposes) with diffusion and interpenetration into the academic context through cross-curricular activity and communication with students, faculty, and administrators in many units and at all levels of the university hierarchy” (308).

The importance of people in a writing program: “Despite my inexperience as an administrator, I assumed that the single most critical factor in the success of a programmatic enterprise is smart, dedicated people: faculty and staff who are intellectually and morally engaged in working for shared goals” (308)

Phelps’ vision of her role as WPA, in regards to starting an inquiry-based writing program that relied on and valued the teachers: “I tried to place teachers’ own reflective thought and collaboration at the center of curriculum development and their intelligent, caring, and responsible interaction with students at the heart of learning” (309).

And this: Her leadership “lay rather in the idea of forming and orchestrating the activity of a teaching community in which people would be authorized and supported to teach flexibly within a broad framework of common goals, to invent curriculum together, to build a program that would finally have intellectual and educative value not only for the students taught but also for the university, the discipline, and for educational theory and practice” (309).

“Agency does not imply absolute power or freedom to do anything you please. Indeed, I discovered, there is a ratio between power and discipline: the greater your authority, the more visible and multiple the disciplines (rules, orders, structures) you must both accept for yourself and impose on others” (311).

“Leadership involves more than generative (‘maternal’ or enabling power)…It requires leaders also to channel, constrain, and judge the actions of others” (311).

“Diffusion of power is the diffusion of problems of power” (311-312).

“An increase in authority, voice, and autonomy is not an unqualified good in and of itself” (312) What teachers in the Syracuse Writing Program quickly discovered. If professionalization is offered and encouraged, it puts at a disadvantage those who cannot or do not or will not take advantage of these opportunities, even if they are not required.

The writing program is not an utopia: “In treating teachers as moral agents – adults – and providing opportunities for curricular control and leadership, I exposed them, perhaps involuntarily, to new risks and pressures while possibly exploiting their capabilities and energy without adequate reward” (313).

“I assumed that inequalities of power as well as of hierarchy are inevitable in any large social organization, patriarchal or otherwise. The possibilities for sharing power among groups in the writing program are circumscribed by the specific social facts of its membership and the organization of the university as a political and bureaucratic workplace. I proposed to work with, rather than against, these real-world constraints” (320).

The asymmetrical power relations within the Syracuse Writing Program: “The social architecture of this program created new power: it generated or attracted energy, enabled novelty and change, created new order and legitimacy, and gave people more personal autonomy and scope for action” (323).

“In actual life, in political life specifically, I think that institutions and programs, like nations, survive and thrive only when people develop a powerful sense of belonging and loyalty to them, and do indeed serve them partly for their own sake: as embodiment, however flawed and mixed, of noble human purposes, as homes or places of work and life, and as human families and collectivities that they love. If there is any single claim that feminists, in composition and elsewhere, seem to be making, it is that women’s work in families and society (the invisible work of managing social interaction [DeVault; Fishman]) prepares them to understand and build such communities. Many of the ‘feminine principles’ I have described here and tried to follow as a leader (collaborative work, consensus building, conversation, professional development, deconstructive use of asymmetries) enact a conception of relations as intrinsically rewarding” (327).

“We are back to the point that power frightens people. Even the most benign power, and most especially collective power, is in part coercive, whether overtly, through rules and rulers, hegemonically, through structures tacitly assimilated, or interactionally, through rhetorical forces. Perhaps even constructive power made available to ourselves is frightening in the electricity it creates and the demands it generates” (328).

“The issue of power is assuredly among the most difficult that feminists face. Power is most often experienced as oppression, and hence the desire for it is frequently disavowed. Yet, insofar as power is the energy and control that gets things done, it is not only an ineluctable dimension of any situation, it is something that feminists require” Nina Baym, quoted in Phelps (329).

“The key to warriorship…is not being afraid of who you are…Shambhala vision teaches that, in the face of the world’s greatest problems, we can be heroic and kind at the same time” Chogyam Trungpa, quoted in Phelps (332)

“Real fearlessness is the product of tenderness. It comes from letting the world tickle your heart, your raw and beautiful heart. You are willing to open up, without resistance and shyness, and face the world” Chogyam Trungpa, quoted in Phelps (332)

“Remember I asked – and postponed answering – the more fundamental question, whether it is ever right to accept invitations to power in the academy. Given the willingness to teach writing, to work in any institution of American higher learning as a scholar or teacher, but especially in tenured of relative economic comfort and privilege, it seems to me the fundamental choice has already been made; what remains is just responsibility and the specific conditions that make it right or possible to take it” (332).

August 27, 2014

Darling-Hammond, Creating a Comprehensive System for Evaluating and Supporting Effective Teaching

Darling-Hammond, Linda. Creating a Comprehensive System for Evaluating and Supporting Effective Teaching. Stanford, CA: Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education. 2012. Print.

This report argues for the development of an aligned, comprehensive K-12 teacher evaluation system that supports students, teachers, curriculum, schools, and communities by being an integral part of a larger teaching and learning system. The report outlines seven “best practices” for creating teacher evaluation systems. Teacher evaluation systems, the report argued, should serve teachers at all stages of their careers and be used for critical decisions at the licensing, hiring, and granting tenure/merit stages. Teacher evaluation systems need to be directly connected to ongoing teacher professional development and encourage collaboration among teachers, not competition. The report makes a distinction between “teacher quality” and “teaching quality,” arguing that helping teachers improve their teaching practices across different kinds of students, contexts, and curriculum will result in better teaching and better student learning. The report includes examples of district and state evaluation systems and procedures that it believes serves as models and starting points for creating a comprehensive teacher evaluation system.


Quotable Quotes

“Today, much attention is focused on identifying and removing poor teachers. But what we really need is a conception of teacher evaluation as part of a teaching and learning system that supports continuous improvement, both for individual teachers and for the profession as a whole. Such a system should enhance teacher learning and skill, while at the same time ensuring that teachers who are retained and tenured can effectively support student learning throughout their careers” (1-2)

The problem: “Virtually everyone agrees that teacher evaluation in the United States needs an overhaul. Existing systems rarely help teachers improve or clearly distinguish those who are succeeding from those who are struggling. The tools that are used do not always represent the important features of good teaching. Criteria and methods for evaluating teachers vary substantially across districts and at key career milestones—when teachers complete pre-service teacher education, become initially licensed, are considered for tenure, and receive a professional license.

A comprehensive system should address these purposes in a coherent way and provide support for supervision and professional learning, identify teachers who need additional assistance and—in some cases—a change of career, and recognize expert teachers who can contribute to the learning of their peers.” (i)

Distinction between teacher quality and teaching quality: “Teacher quality might be thought of as the bundle of personal traits, skills, and understandings an individual brings to teaching, including dispositions to behave in certain ways. Teaching quality refers to strong instruction that enables a wide range of students to learn. Teaching quality is in part a function of teacher quality— teachers’ knowledge, skills, and dispositions—but it is also strongly influenced by the context of instruction: the curriculum and assessment system; the “fit” between teachers’ qualifications and what they are asked to teach; and teaching conditions, such as time, class size, facilities, and materials. If teaching is to be effective, policymakers must address the teaching and learning environment as well as the capacity of individual teachers” (i).

Five elements to this teacher evaluation system, as part of a larger teaching and learning system:

  1. “Common statewide standards for teaching that are related to meaningful student learning and are shared across the profession.” These should help direct the preparation of teachers and ongoing professional development (i)
  2. “Performance assessments, based on statewide standards, guiding state function such as teacher preparation, licensure, and advanced certification” – there should be multiple assessments for different points in the profession (initial, mid, advanced) that look at how well teachers can “plan, teach, and assess learning” (ii)
  3. “Local evaluation systems aligned to the same standards, which asses on-the-job teaching based on multiple measures of teaching practice and student learning.” – things like observations, teaching artifacts like lessons plans/assignments, “evidence” of how teachers contribute to their colleagues’ work and student learning (ii) (example on page 11)
  4. “Support structures to ensure trained evaluators, mentoring for teachers who need additional assistance, and fair decisions about personnel actions” – including access to master teacher mentors, fair “governance structures,” and continued resources to maintain the system (ii)
  5. “Aligned professional learning opportunities that support the improvement of teachers and teaching quality” – all kinds of professional development (formal, embedded) that “trigger continuous goal-setting” and “opportunities to share expertise” (ii)

 “To transform systems, incentives should be structured to promote collaboration and knowledge sharing, rather than competition, across organizations” (ii)

“Criteria for an Effective Teacher Evaluation System

“In conclusion, research on successful approaches to teacher evaluation suggests that:

  1. “Teacher evaluation should be based on professional teaching standards and should be sophisticated enough to assess teaching quality across the continuum of development from novice to expert teacher.
  2. “Evaluations should include multi-faceted evidence of teacher practice, student learning, and professional contributions that are considered in an integrated fashion, in relation to one another and to the teaching context. Any assessments used to make judgments about students’ progress should be appropriate for the specific curriculum and students the teacher teaches.
  3. “Evaluators should be knowledgeable about instruction and well trained in the evaluation system, including the process of how to give productive feedback and how to support ongoing learning for teachers. As often as possible, and always at critical decision-making junctures (e.g., tenure or renew- al), the evaluation team should include experts in the specific teaching field.
  4. “Evaluation should be accompanied by useful feedback, and connected to professional development opportunities that are relevant to teachers’ goals and needs, including both formal learning opportunities and peer collaboration, observation, and coaching.
  5. “The evaluation system should value and encourage teacher collaboration, both in the standards and criteria that are used to assess teachers’ work, and in the way results are used to shape professional learning opportunities.
  6. “Expert teachers should be part of the assistance and review process for new teachers and for teachers needing extra assistance. They can provide the additional subject-specific expertise and person-power needed to ensure that intensive and effective assistance is offered and that decisions about tenure and continuation are well grounded.
  7. “Panels of teachers and administrators should oversee the evaluation process to ensure that it is thorough and of high quality, as well as fair and reliable. Such panels have been shown to facilitate more timely and well- grounded personnel decisions that avoid grievances and litigation. Teachers and school leaders should be involved in developing, implementing, and monitoring the system to ensure that it reflects good teaching well, that it operates effectively, that it is tied to useful learning opportunities for teachers, and that it produces valid results.

“Initiatives to measure and improve teaching effectiveness will have the greatest payoff if they stimulate practices known to support student learning and are embedded in systems that also develop greater teaching competence. In this way, policies that create increasingly valid measures of teaching effectiveness—and that create innovative systems for recognizing, developing and utilizing expert teachers—can ultimately help to create a more effective teaching profession” (iii-iv).


“Good systems must be designed so that teachers are not penalized for teaching the students who have the greatest educational needs. Rather, they should explicitly seek to provide incentives that recognize and reward teachers who work with challenging students” (24)

Notable Notes 

Need to create a system for evaluating teachers (and developing teaching) that takes into account all the stakeholders at local/state/national levels as well as the curriculum and standards.

The problem with relying on student performance scores to evaluate teaching: a teachers’ scores vary considerably from class-to-class and year-to-year, are affected by and tied directly to the type of students in the classroom (student differences), and the scores themselves are flattened – it’s impossible to discern what exactly impacted student learning: the teacher, the curriculum, the school environment, the home environment? (iii)

Student learning scores can be used in determining teacher effectiveness, but they can’t be the sole indicator and if used, they must be “appropriate for the curriculum and the students being taught” (iii)

Good graphic for representing the three tiers of a teacher career (and the argument to assess and evaluate teachers along these three tiers): initial, professional licensure, experienced/master teacher (7) and an example of New Mexico’s standards-based teacher evaluation system that evaluates teachers at these three tiers (8-9)

discussion of peer-based review of teachers, examples of systems using peer review (28-35)

August 25, 2014

NCTE Position Statement on Teacher Evaluation

NCTE Position Statement on Teacher Evaluation. National Council of Teachers of English. 21 April 2012. Web. 25 August 2014.

This 2012 position statement on K-12 evaluation argues that teacher evaluation is important and necessary way to improve schools, teachers, and student learning. NCTE bases this position statement on the belief that teaching is a complex process that must take into account the socioeconomic, political, cultural, and linguistic contexts of the students teachers teach and the schools and communities that they teach in. The position statement explains that the conversation surrounding teacher evaluation falls into two areas, distinguished by the end purpose of the teacher evaluation. The first purpose is “Test-Based Accountability,” which NCTE defines as using standardized student test scores to rank teachers and identify (and remove) ineffective teachers solely through student test score performance. The second purpose is “Professional-Development-Based Accountability,” which NCTE defines as using teacher evaluation as a way to promote ongoing teacher professional development. Ongoing teacher professional development helps teachers be better by allowing them to continually learn more about their subject matter, pedagogical methods, and their students. This position statement warns that an overreliance on this first kind of teacher evaluation – one based on student test scores – will take the craft out of teaching, resulting in cookie-cutter approaches to student learning and a curriculum focused on testing. The position statement also outlines principles for creating fair and effective evaluations for English Language Arts teachers.


Quotable Quotes

Epigraph: “For more than two decades, policymakers have undertaken many and varied reforms to improve schools, ranging from new standards and tests to redesigned schools, new curricula and new governance models. One important lesson from these efforts is the repeated finding that teachers are the fulcrum determining whether any school initiative tips toward success or failure. Every aspect of school reform depends on highly skilled teachers for its success.” – Linda Darling-Hammond, 2010

“NCTE recognizes that quality assurance is an important responsibility of school leaders and accepts that a successful evaluation system must assist school leaders in making major personnel decisions such as retention, tenure, and dismissal. Still, it firmly believes that an overemphasis on accountability rooted in testing sets the bar much too low for school improvement and leads to a curriculum too heavily devoted to test preparation.”

NCTE believes that multifaceted teacher evaluation is a significant component for student, teacher, and school improvement and advocates strongly for a system that emphasizes professional growth. English teachers must continually study their subject along with the craft of teaching in their efforts to make learning happen.”

“Student test scores are unreliable indicators of teacher performance and should play a very small role in evaluation.”


Notable Notes

Principles for creating teacher evaluation systems for ELA teachers:

  1. “based on a comprehensive review of effective teaching behaviors”
  2. “relies on a wide range of evidence”
  3. “aligns quality assurance purposes to professional growth”
  4. “is fair and nonthreatening”

March 6, 2014

Mayher, English Teacher Education as Literacy Teacher Education

Mayher, John S. “English Teacher Education as Literacy Teacher Education.” English Education 44.2 (January 2012): 180-187.

Mayher calls for English education programs to form alliances with colleagues and departments across their campuses in order to restructure English teacher education as literacy teacher education. Mayher argues that integration is necessary and overdue, especially in the context of the Common Core State Standards, which emphasize literacy education across the curriculum. Mayher points out that English education programs that focus primarily on literature are not preparing their students to teach all the students they will encounter in the 21st century American school system. Mayher calls on national organizations like CEE and NCTE to take the lead in conversations about literacy education, and part of taking this lead, he contends, is re-examining the assumptions that form our English teacher education programs.

Notable Notes

Mayher notes that there are at least four discrete teacher education disciplines that prepare students to teach literacy: secondary English education, early childhood/childhood education, TESOL, and special education. Added to that is the emergence of literacy education (K-12) programs (182).

the problem with specialization within national organizations – we’ve become fragmented, have different cultures, but we need to move beyond these cultural boundaries to work together to prepare teachers to meet the challenges of the modern American school system and CCSS. (184)

need to support beginning teachers after they graduate from teacher education programs – they still are not expert teachers and need ongoing mentoring and support. Teacher education programs need to reach out to the schools their students are placed in and give them more hands-on practice in how to teach – focus on “the transition to teaching” (186).

CCSS asks teachers from all subject areas to focus on literacy across the curriculum, something English teacher education programs should prepare their student to work towards in their schools (183).

English teacher education programs need “to be inclusive and therefore more than the traditional literature-centered subject English” (182).

The lit-centered English teacher education curriculum doesn’t prepare teachers to help students who are not proficient in the literacy skills they needed to master in the early grades (183).

Quotable Quotes

“The need for integration stems from the need to better serve the pupils our students will teach and to better prepare our students to do so” (182).

“Whatever one thinks of the ways being attempted to change schools, the fact is that the problems are real and we must play a central role in helping to solve them” (180).

“So if we are serious about building a teacher education culture that is responsive to the complex, interconnected, and integrated demands of K-12 teaching, we have to find ways to open up our curricular boxes and reconceive them across all the sub-specialties that touch on literacy education” (184).

“The common denominator here must be literacy teacher education for K-12 schools” (185).
“The Common Core, the NAEP, NCLB, and the state standards as well all recognize the centrality of literacy to the educational enterprise. What we must do is move into that center and claim the pedagogical high ground. Let’s change our name, our stance, and our capacity to collaborate with those who are also trying to help the children we serve. The time is now” (187).

October 25, 2013

Artze-Vega et al, Privilgeing Pedagogy

Artze-Vega, Isis, et al. “Privileging Pedagogy: Composition, Rhetoric, and Faculty Development.” College Composition and Communication 65:1 (September 2013): 162-184.

This article, written by seven scholars who work in the “border” between comp/rhet and faculty development, demonstrates the connections between comp/rhet scholarship and faculty development work and argues for more collaboration between these two fields. The authors define faculty development as a “transdisciplinary site,” (166) list the ways comp/rhet theory and work prepares scholars for faculty development work, explain how faculty development research has informed their own teaching and scholarship, and argue for greater emphasis on faculty development theory and training in comp/rhet graduate programs. Their article includes an annotated bibliography for faculty development scholarship.

The essay makes a case for the political importance of comp/rhet scholars taking on faculty development roles: these administrative positions give comp/rhet scholars the opportunity to affect change on the institution and influence higher education in directions that could privilege teaching and learning.

Notable Notes

How comp/rhet scholarship and training prepares people to take on faculty development positions:

  • “established focus on pedagogy and the trend toward preparation for administrative duties” (166)
  • valuing of teaching and learning
  • insights into how students learn that can be applied across contexts and disciplines
  • good writers/rhetoricians, can prepare professional reports, materials, etc
  • understand that all learning, writing is rhetorically situated
  • interest in how people learn
  • WPA work is oriented to teaching/educating, not just managing
  • work often with instructional technology and digital media
  • familiar with networking through WAC, WID, writing centers

How faculty development scholarship can impact writing education

  • research on student motivation
  • research on student development, especially young adult/adult education
  • research on the impact of the holistic student experience on student performance in individual courses

how a faculty developer can be an “intellectual bureaucrat” (Richard E. Miller, 1998) – make change at higher institutional levels (171), opportunity to be a campus leader.

Problems with the faculty developer position – sometimes seen as an inferior scholar, funding issues (necessary to build strong relationships and connections across campus) (176-177)

Possibilities for graduate education: courses dedicated to faculty development, include faculty development as a possible career path and area of scholarly inquiry, internships in CTL (centers for teaching and learning) or other faculty development positions (training TAs, WAC and WID work, etc.)

Quotable Quotes

“Success in faculty development begins with admitting that we have more questions than answers and with accepting the challenge of continually revising our teaching and reassessing our learning” (177).

“These courses [in composition theory and pedagogy], we feel, could benefit from a closer alignment with insights developed in the field of faculty development: principles of learning from a general perspective, explicit discussion of institutional politics beyond the writing program, inclusion of models for leading and adapting to change within institutions, and broad exploration of curriculum design and assessment. Such training will prepare students to be effective participants in a wide range of institutional and department cultures as well as potentially providing them with access to an alternative (and greatly satisfying) career path” (176).

“Both groups [faculty developers and comp/rhet scholars] believe that continued professional learning is a desirable professional norm” (174).

“We [WPAs} know that teaching and learning are not the same thing, and this insight is central to faculty development work” (168).

“In order to be effective, professional development needs to be sustained not only over the course of a year but over the course of a career” (168).


June 12, 2013

Halpern, The Preceptor Problem: The Effect of Undisciplined Writing on Disciplined Instructors

Halpern, Faye. “The Preceptor Problem: The Effect of ‘Undisciplined Writing’ on Disciplined Instructors.” Writing Program Administration 36.2 (Spring 2013): 10-26.

Halpern uses her experience as a preceptor (full-time instructor) in the Harvard Expository Writing Program, an independent writing program that hires instructors from across the disciplines to teach an ‘undisciplined’ approach to academic writing, to discuss the effects of programmatic philosophies on the professional development and disciplinary identity of their instructors. Much of the scholarship on independent writing programs have focused on how stand-alone programs affect the identity and working conditions/relationships of the full-time faculty; Halpern’s article provides an in-depth look at how administrative decisions like the creation of independent writing programs or the adoption of particular writing curriculum affect instructors both while they are teaching in the program and after they leave and teach or work elsewhere.

Halpern argues that there is a problem with freestanding/independent writing programs like Harvard’s or Duke’s because the transdisciplinary nature of the programs leaves instructors without a solid disciplinary identity. Halpern points out that these independent writing programs often function as happy intellectual islands, developing their own theories, terms, and language. When instructors (whose positions are really not meant to be permanent positions but rather post-doc-like instructorships) leave, they are not well-prepared to enter into the disciplinary conversations and debates that characterize most academic departments. Halpern argues that WPAs and full-time faculty at independent writing programs need to consider the professional development needs and disciplinary identities of their instructors, preparing them not just to be successful teachers in that particular environment but also at other institutions.

Notable Notes

transdisciplinarity (11) – what writing shares across disciplines instead of what makes each discipline’s writing distinct

the effect of liberation, freedom, and independence on all stakeholders

the many ways it is difficult for an instructor to move from an instructorship to a tenure-track position (16-17)

characteristic of American colleges/universities/academic departments; thinking in terms of disciplinarity (20-21)

important effect: your graduate school training and early jobs have a profound effect on how you view yourself as a teacher and and academic, where you place yourself in the field (22-23)

connection to Duke (in article), possible connection to Syracuse and the Writing Program’s effect on the professional development and identity of the instructors

list of terms used by the Harvard Expos program – creation of a discourse community (13)

Quotable Quotes

“Academic expertise usually involves learning a discipline, but that is precisely not what I learned at Expos: I learned how to move beyond my discipline” (15).

“Perhaps one of the hardest things for a program to do is to acknowledge its own partiality. I mean ‘partiality’ in two senses: programs are partial to their own methods, and their methods constitute only one approach, an approach that intersects inevitably with the work of others” (23).


January 24, 2013

Mueller, Grasping Rhetoric and Composition by Its Long Tail

Mueller, Derek. “Grasping Rhetoric and Composition by Its Long Tail: What Graphs Can Tell Us about the Field’s Changing Shape.” College Composition and Communication 64.1 (Septembter 2012): 195-223.

Mueller investigates 25 years of citations from the journal College Composition and Communication (1987-2011) to explore the discipline’s citation practices and changing shape.  He uses graphs, lists, and tables (an application of distant reading methods drawn from Franco Moretti’s work) to demonstrate the field’s growing specialization, as shown by the diminishing frequency of top-cited scholars among the data set of citations.  He uses Chris Anderson’s concept of the long tail to describe what he sees in the shifting citation practices of CCC articles: not only have the top-cited authors changed over 25 years (the scholars most frequently cited in 1987-1991 are not those most frequently cited in 2007-2011), but also there has been a growing number of once- or twice-cited authors or scholars, which shows the expansion and increasingly specialization of composition and rhetoric.  Mueller offers his study as a way to query the field and ask how our graduate education curriculum and professional development prepare future scholars for the field of the future.

Notable Notes

Chris Anderson – Wired magazine 2004: the long tail.  Anderson used the long tail to describe market practices, showing how online retailers are able to capitalize on less-popular niche markets (Amazon v. Borders.)  Pareto distribution/power law

contains a series of graphs – some looking at the aggregate data, others split into five-year subsets

distant reading – systematic, quantitative approach to data, a different scale than close reading, and this larger scale helps us recognize patterns and developments that are not always apparent at close range. Table of contents, article abstracts as an example of distant reading.  They enable decision making: “Readers rely on these devices to make quick decisions about whether to read a particular article or not, but reading the journal through these devices alone is not quite the same as reading a scholarly article in the common sense of the activity” (198).  (Mueller cites Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink in his endnote.)

the usefulness of graphs and distant reading – they encourage new questions

His graphs/lists/tables:

  • Figure 1- page count and citation count over 25 years (both have increased)
  • Figure 2- 102 most frequently cited authors in CCC from 1987-2011
  • Figure 3 – top ten most frequently cited authors in CCC from 1987-2011, divided into 5-year intervals
  • Figure 4 – Chris Anderson’s “Anatomy of the Long Tail”
  • Figure 5 – the long tail, references to unique names in CCC works cited 1987-2011
  • Figures 6-10 – the long tail, references to unique names in CCC works cited 1987-2011, split into 5-year intervals

there is no one stable field.  Growing specialization isn’t a problem to solve; it is something to query and base our actions on (215-217)

more research in the dataset – how does an author’s citation practices change over time? Are citation practices from graduates of certain programs similar? (214)

the problem of keeping up with scholarship in the field.  How can one read the whole long tail?  How has the field changed because of increasing specialization? (214)

our understanding of the field is based on our own vantage point (217)

extension of study done by Phillips, Greenberg, and Gibson in 1993

16,726 citations in 491 journal articles published in CCC from 1987-2011 (25 years) (197)

Who was central when? What does that say about our field? (203)

problem: “citation listings lack dimension” – the works cited does not indicate the importance or general impact of a citation on the work as a whole

dappled field (206)

Quotable Quotes

“From graphs, then, come new insights, new provocations, and new questions: what has changed, over time, in the relationship between the head of the curve and the long tail?” (215)

“A deliberate adjustment in the level of detail at which we ordinarily experience texts: this is a key motive when producing graphs as a distant reading method, and it is a common tactic for mediating large datasets, including scholarly corpora” (197-198).

“Certainly the figures at the top tell us something about citation practices and centrality in the journal’s scholarly conversation; however, the larger number of figures at the bottom indicates something more. It is, after all, in this long, flat expanse of unduplicated references that we can begin to assess just how broad-based the conversations (in a given journal) have grown – and just how much the centered, coherent, and familiar locus of conversation, based on citation practices, has slid” (210).

“Burke’s parlor is nowadays full and teeming, more crowded than ever before” (214).

“A changing disciplinary density: this is not a condition for us to solve; nonetheless, it demands a certain reckoning, particularly for graduate education and professional development” (219).

September 4, 2012

Moneyhun, Performance Evaluation as Faculty Development

Moneyhun, Clyde. “Performance Evaluation as Faculty Development.” WPA 34.1 (Fall 2010): 161-165.

Moneyhun uses his own experience as a WPA who needed to create an evaluation system for his writing instructors as a way to explain how performance evaluation can be viewed as a faculty development opportunity. The yearly evaluation system he designed with much input from the instructors asked instructors to self-assess their work in areas of teaching, service, and research on both a numerical scale and through short reflective answers. Moneyhun argues that including expectations and rewards for service and research gave him room as a WPA to argue for insitutional support for sending instructors to conferences and for their community service.

Notable Notes

Moneyhun describes the conditions that must be met for evaluation to benefit instructors’ growth as teachers: instructors should be involved in creating the process; the process should derive from local university faculty handbooks and departmental guidelines; the process should encourage two-way dialogue between the WPA and the instructors; and the WPA should be clear about his role as both student and instructor advocate. (161-162).

The evaluation system involves the self-reports, then Moneyhun writes feedback letters and schedules follow-up conferences with the instructors.

The goals of evaluation: it is high-stakes assessment and also allows the WPA to determine who gets assigned special or desirable courses, helps determine merit pay increases, decides who gets re-hired, leaves a paper trail (positive and negative) (161)

not a peer-review system – but shows how evaluation can be a rhetorical argument to higher administration (the importance of service and research in the evaluation) and to the instructors themselves (expecatation of service and research add to a sense of professional identity) (163)

importance of making evaluation responsive to local conditions (165)

Penrose, Professional Identity in a Contingent-Labor Profession

Penrose, Ann M. “Professional Identity in a Contingent-Labor Profession: Expertise, Autonomy, Community in Composition Teaching.” WPA 35.2 (Spring 2012): 108-126.

Penrose analyzes the factors that constitute professional identity – dynamic expertise, autonomy and authority, and participation in a professional community – and argues that this definition of a professional could be a new way WPAs can articulate the goals they have for their non-tenure-track instructors and for improving their instructors’ material working conditions.

Penrose argues that the fractured nature of the field and the work of composition instructors – that the field, though broadly coherent, can look very different through the vantage points of sub-specialties, individual research agendas, and composition curricula and programs – leads to non-tenure-track composition instructors feeling like they don’t belong in the professional composition community.  Penrose calls on WPAs to make concerted, continual efforts to cultivate a professional composition community for their non-tenure-track instructors and graduate TAs, calling the instructors’ attention to the ways they are building their multifaceted professional identites, shared language, and common values.

Penrose argues that having a vision of what a professional composition instructor is will help in WPAs arguments for offering professional development and improving instructors’ working conditions.

Notable Notes

looks at research in what makes a professional and a professional community in history, sociology, higher education

even composition programs all founded on the WPA outcomes can look widely different

professional development can seem coercive – as a way to regulate, to supervise – not as a continued process of shared learning. They can be disruptive to autonomy and authority. (116)

studies show that high levels of professional identity among K-12 teachers lead to greater student learning (110).

trend from the autonomous professional (shut my classroom door) to the collaborative professional from the 1980s and beyond (111)

current pressures in politics to deprofessionalize education, to turn it away from an authoritative community that regulates itself, has the danger of making teaching an amateur enterprise, where teachers implement and reproduce but do not create or add to the knowledge base of the community (111)

definition of profession (112): specialized expert with dynamic knowledge base, has rights and privileges, and member of a social community with shared languages, values

Quotable Quotes

“The concept of professional identity is particularly intriguing in our field, where staffing practices intersect with disciplinary indeterminacy to create a teaching community comprising professionals with widely varying preparation, knowledge, philosophical commitments, and disciplinary allegiances.” (109)

“The diversity of perspectives that we value in theory and entertain in our disciplinary scholarship becomes complicated in the applied contexts of FYC programs, where contingent faculty are often hired to further others’ agendas rather than their own.” (109-110).

“Professional identities are not simply a matter of assigned status or recognition but self-images that influence behavior – determining, for example, where we seek our professional knowledge and to whom we consider ourselves accountable” (112)

“True professionals do not simply possess a body of knowledge but engage in continuing professional development and actively contribute to the community’s knowledge base” (113).

“Professions are dynamic social groups. Being a professional is not a matter of being free from community decisions but being part of them; not just of acquiring the profession’s knowledge but of contributing to it; not of working in isolation but of engaging with colleagues. Clearly we are aiming not for one of these identities – expert, autonomous agent, community member – but for all of them” (120).

“Understanding professionalism as collaborative provides useful perspective on the question of expertise, for it shifts attention from knowledge as static to knowledge as responsive and evolving” (120).

“Composition experts are identified not by the possession of a finite body of knowledge but by a rhetorical understanding that motivates them to assess, apply, and adapt their knowledge and develop new expertise as needed to meet teaching challenges in varied contexts” (121).

Next Page »

Blog at