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First Time Up

An Insider'S Guide For New Composition Teachers

Brock Dethier

Publication Year: 2005

"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.

Published by: Utah State University Press


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pp. v

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pp. vii-viii

This book distills much of what I’ve learned about teaching writing since I first graded a student paper thirty years ago. A thorough acknowledgments page would include every student and colleague I’ve worked with during that time. Without the memory required to create such a list, I will mention only those people directly involved in bringing this book to print ...

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pp. ix-x

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. ...

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1. Why You've Made the Right Choice

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pp. 1-21

I know, it’s pretty cheesy to start a book with a line stolen from someone else’s opener. You may think I’m just being lazy, but that isn’t my only motivation. As a new composition teacher, you need to get used to borrowing, whether from veterans like me, founding fathers like Murray, or your officemate whose class ends just before yours begins. If you think ...

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2. Preparing

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pp. 22-40

Some people postpone worry and stress by simply not thinking about upcoming tasks until they absolutely have to, then running around frantically trying to get everything done, hoping that nothing breaks or goes awry and that they’ve accurately predicted how much time they will need. This chapter, and indeed much of this book, is not for such people. It’s ...

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3. Resources

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pp. 41-52

I am a self-sufficient loner. I hike alone, I ski alone, I play music by myself. I change my own flat tires, I read maps rather than ask for directions, I’d rather drive by myself for days than play elbow hockey with boorish cell phoners in germ-drenched airplanes. But I don’t teach alone. Yes, I’m usually the only “professor” in the ...

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4. The First Day

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pp. 53-62

First days are the worst days. A good mantra if you have a bad first class. Amid the inevitable confusion and chaos, we have little chance to make real contact or get the grateful feedback that sustains us. Foul-ups with the roll, the room, or the equipment eat up time, and even veterans often feel frazzled. I fear only experience can bring the alternative view of first days—to ...

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5. Grading, Attendance, and Other Pains-in-the-Butt

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pp. 63-81

Teaching in the age of litigation sometimes becomes a defensive game. We have to establish rules and policies not for the one hundred students each year who act like reasonable, civil human beings but for the one per year (or decade) who acts like a bad lawyer on steroids, tries to get away with dereliction in your class, and then searches your syllabus with a magnifier ...

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6. What You Need to Know About Theory (For Now)

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pp. 82-98

I suppose as an undergrad I heard the word “theory” and perhaps fretted that I didn’t know enough about it. But I wasn’t forced to confront theory’s haughty stare until my first semester of graduate school, when I took a course in theory taught by E. D. Hirsch, Jr., later to achieve national notoriety for his books about cultural literacy. Hirsch assumed ...

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7. Confident and Humble: And Other Contradictions We Live By

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pp. 99-107

Composition is a world of contradictions. Perhaps our most popular formula for good writing—“clear and concise”—wars with itself: clear usually means more detail, more length. Teachers who don’t recognize the paradoxical nature of our work may get frustrated listening to (or giving) conflicting advice: “Meet with your students as often as possible ...

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8. Avoiding Stress

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pp. 108-133

Stress is like pain tolerance or writing speed: we’ll never know whether we feel and react exactly the way others do, or whether by the world’s standards we’re unique, over- or under-reacting. Is my job more or less stressful than an air traffic controller’s or a wine taster’s? I’m clueless. But I wouldn’t trade. ...

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9. Nightmares

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pp. 134-154

Think twice before reading this chapter. I’ll probably bring up some frightening scenarios that you haven’t imagined yet. And I can tell you right now that I don’t have fast, sure solutions to any of these nightmares— they wouldn’t be nightmares if they were easy to solve or avoid. You might want to skip this chapter and return only when you actually ...

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10. Outside the Classroom

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pp. 155-161

At first, most novice teachers focus on their hours in the classroom; they’re the newest, most intense aspect of teaching, the part that may resemble nothing else in the young teacher’s life. But as the teacher gains experience and the hours in the classroom become more routine, life outside the classroom becomes more important until, for long-term veterans ...

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11. Building Your Future

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pp. 162-171

Immersed in a semester of teaching composition, you’ll find it almost impossible to think about the future, especially a future beyond turning in your last grades of the semester. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’m not going to urge you to raise your periscope every few days, look at the Big Picture, and adjust your daily activities. In this chapter, I want to get you to ...

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The Last Word

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pp. 172-173

Ok, this is not a game show. You don’t have to guess: the word isprofessional. Stinging put-down on a student evaluation: “The teacher was unprofessional.” Worse than wrong. Below boring. Violator of the quasi-legal contract between teacher and student. You can write great stuff without being professional. You can fascinate ...

APPENDIX A: Yes, You May

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pp. 174-176

APPENDIX B: Motivation Through Metaphor

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pp. 177-179

APPENDIX C: Another Obnoxious Questionnaire

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pp. 180

APPENDIX D: In Defense of Subjective Grading

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pp. 181-185

APPENDIX E: Teaching Academic Integrity

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pp. 186-210


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pp. 202-205


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pp. 206-208

E-ISBN-13: 9780874215212
Print-ISBN-13: 9780874216202

Publication Year: 2005