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The English Graduate Teaching Assistantship involves a comprehensive program to enable all teaching assistants to reach their potential as instructors within the classroom and as students themselves of composition and rhetoric.

To prepare for this approach to the teaching of composition, the teaching assistants participate in a two-part program during their first year:

  • Two-week orientation prior to the fall term
  • Three-hour seminar during the fall term

In addition, a regular program of supervision is followed throughout the four terms of the typical assistant's tenure.

Orientation (EN 600)

Prior to the start of the fall semester.

In this session, the new assistants are introduced to the theories of composition that form the foundation of the teaching practices, with emphasis upon the cognitive development of the composition students' thought processes as manifested in their writing. With this emphasis forming the foundation of their own course plans, the teaching assistants are able to formulate a comprehensive approach to composition in which they are given much latitude and responsibility within their own classrooms. In understanding the theory, the teaching assistants can unify all elements of instruction: course planning, daily lesson plans, classroom presentations and workshops, assignments, responses to essays, conference techniques, and evaluation of essays.

Introduction to the theory is followed by application in classroom practices. The first-year composition textbook is examined to emphasize its cognitive organization and its emphasis on the recursive writing process. Teaching Assistants also use an anthology of our students' essays (Beyond the Blank Page), which is published and marketed by Fountainhead.

The manual for teaching assistants, “Dr. Staff,” complements the review of theory and pedagogy and is discussed in detail. This manual provides guidelines for professional conduct and classroom management, samples of both functional and dysfunctional essays, and various documents relating to teaching practices and campus resources and university policies.

At the end of the orientation, each teaching assistant produces a syllabus and a course policies based on the departmental syllabus, the FYC textbook, and the theories and applications presented during the orientation. The supervisor emphasizes that this course outline is a guide and not a rigid instrument. Thus, each assistant is encouraged to be responsive to the emerging needs manifested in each class.

First Term Seminar (EN 645)

The first semester seminar allows a deeper examination of the pedagogical issues touched upon in the orientation. Thus, the EN654 seminar introduces the assistants to the professional literature regarding some of the basic concerns of teaching, such as making assignments, setting up and conducting peer workshops, conferencing, and evaluating essays. In addition, pedagogical theories are examined to acquaint the teaching assistants with varying approaches to teaching composition. Specific activities involve

  • Group forums on topics relevant to the teaching of composition.
  • An analysis of practices when responding to students’ writing.
  • Individual presentations on composition theorists.
  • An analysis of the application of various theories in responding to student writing.
  • A teaching philosophy that reflects the teaching assistant’s beliefs about composition theory and pedagogy.
  • Discussions of immediate issues arising from the assistants' experiences within their classrooms.

Supervisory Activities

Beyond the seminar activities, each teaching assistant meets with the supervisor throughout each term to discuss various activities and map strategies for improvement of instruction. These meetings involve

  • Conferring with supervisor to examine student evaluations and grade assignment profiles from the previous term.
  • Conferring with supervisor for discussion of self-analysis of a videotaped class session.
  • Arranging a classroom observation.
  • Conferring with supervisor for a post-observation discussion.
  • Providing supervisor with graded papers for two conferences (one early in the term and one later) on responses and grading techniques.
  • Conferring with supervisor, providing a self-analysis of teaching performance at the end of the term.
  • Conferring with supervisor to discuss the summative evaluation to be sent to all appropriate administrators.

Each session with the supervisor produces documents that the teaching assistant can place in the Teaching Portfolio. This portfolio is a valuable record that the assistant can use in gaining admission into graduate school or full-time employment.


Grauel 236
Department of English
One University Plaza, MS 2650
Cape Girardeau, Missouri 63701