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Pedagogy 6.1 (2006) 145-148

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Placing Pedagogy at the Center:

The Pain and the Pleasure

Professing and Pedagogy: Learning the Teaching of English. By Shari J. Stenberg. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 2005.

I warn you: if you read Shari J. Stenberg's Professing and Pedagogy: Learning the Teaching of English, you will have to do some serious work on your teaching, and if you don't do this work, what she says will haunt you until you do. This is not to say that Stenberg's is a guilt-inducing book, or that her argument is that we are all, at heart, bad teachers. No, Professing and Pedagogy argues that learning how to teach English ought to be a lifelong activity and that, despite our sense that we take teaching seriously, "efforts to improve the status of teaching or teacher development do little good when they do not also challenge deeply entrenched conceptions of the research professor and the discipline, which contribute to utilitarian conceptions of teaching" (xvii).

The book's premise seems mild enough at first—that although those of us in English studies have given ourselves a lot of credit for our work in preparing teachers of college-level English, our practices and priorities tend to devalue teaching. As many readers might, I agreed with this point right away and was ready to settle into the position of "enlightened" teacher of [End Page 145] composition and rhetoric, nodding and writing furious notes as I read how others (mainly the literature folks) had not yet come around to "our" way of thinking. After all, I had written my dissertation on preparing teachers of writing, and, as a writing program administrator (WPA) at a small New England college, I am one of the only compositionists on campus; in fact, two colleagues and I run a yearly institute for faculty on the teaching of writing. The committee charged with reviewing faculty for promotions and tenure recently praised my teaching in a letter of support, and, truth be told, I was starting to get a little bit comfortable with my teaching.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I realized that Stenberg does not merely mean that "they" should be committed to ongoing teacher development but that "we" should. All of us. Stenberg divides Professing and Pedagogy into five chapters beyond her brief introduction: "Teaching in the Research Model," "The Teacher as Scholar," "The Teacher as Trainee," "The Teacher as Owner," and "The Teacher as Learner," a structure to be understood as both a metaphoric and historical progression. In other words, as we move—and as the field moves—from the concept of the teacher as researcher-scholar to the teacher as learner, "we work together to forge a new brand of disciplinary work—a brand that values teaching as intellectual lifework" (149).

Now, to those of you who smirk at a term like "lifework," please bear with me for a moment. It is certainly true that Professing and Pedagogy does, at times, contain a few cringeworthy terms. For example, Stenberg argues in favor of calling a classroom visit a "learning visit" so as to demonstrate "a commitment to collaborative teacher learning, to opening our classroom doors to one another" (111). To be fair, Stenberg adds that "declaring a vision of the 'learning visit' is not sufficient" and that changing the name doesn't do much to make the practice more collaborative and less supervisory. Yet, as I read, I could only imagine the looks I would get from adjunct faculty at Keene State if I were to say, "I'll be by for my learning visit on Tuesday." Our adjuncts know that the visit write-ups go in their human resource files and that my job description reads "supervise adjunct faculty." However, what Stenberg is saying, I believe, is not that one should ignore systems of power within departments and programs but, instead, one should consider how these hierarchies work to both support and hinder teaching development. In fact, this section made me consider why I frame...


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