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Pedagogy 3.2 (2003) 293-294
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Associate Editor's Introduction
Literature and Lives: A Response-Based, Cultural Studies Approach to Teaching English. By Allen Carey-Webb. Urbana, Ill.: National Council of Teachers of English, 2001.
Like many of our roundtables, the reviews of Allen Carey-Webb's Literature and Lives serve, as Jeraldine Kraver notes, as an occasion for critical reflection on pedagogy. Kraver situates Carey-Webb's approach in the spectrum of contemporary pedagogical theories as well as addresses the vexed issue of political alignment in the classroom. John Allen explores the issue of isolation, both of the individual teacher from other teachers and of the classroom from the "real world," and David Swerdlow discusses Carey-Webb's book in the context of curriculum design. Previous roundtables have covered both textbooks and works on pedagogical theory, and the present reviewers remind us that a book like Carey-Webb's can be both. Their reflections have helped me better understand a question I have been concerned with for some time: how do we prepare graduate students to teach literature?
The department in which I teach, like many smaller programs, offers an M.A. in English for a limited number of graduate students. Most of our graduate students receive teaching assistantships governed by the usual economy: they teach composition sections cheaply. None of them teaches literature [End Page 293] courses. One or two a year might go on to a doctoral program in which they will have an opportunity to learn more about teaching, but most will seek positions as adjuncts or as tenure-track faculty at community colleges, and they recognize that their composition pedagogy will not completely prepare them to teach literature. A few have approached me about learning to teach literature, either through independent study or through further reading, but I shy away from pushing them in any one direction. Partly it is, as Kraver notes, that we are uncomfortable naming our own pedagogy, especially publicly; it may even be, as Allen suggests, that we are reluctant "to share our teaching experiences because we're worried that we're doing something 'wrong.'" Swerdlow reminds me that decisions on what methods we will teach or recommend occur in a context—and while the undergraduate program in my department has long since moved away from a coverage model, we are only beginning a conversation about moving the graduate program from a canon of texts to modes of inquiry. What I recommend to graduate students, then, is likely to conflict with their experience of the program, though not completely; I also regard formalism and literary history as powerful modes of inquiry that are enlivened by rather than embalmed in contemporary theory.
I am grateful for the training in teaching literature that I received from my own professors, especially because I was exposed to many styles and approaches. But I also value what I learned from my fellow graduate students as we explored pedagogies together. What I would like to do is create a space in which graduate students can discover what works for them, not just read the books I recommend or imitate what I do in the classroom, and can learn not only high theory but the nuts and bolts of implementing it in the classroom—and all within the constraints of a program heavy with requirements and light in resources. A smaller, more immediate goal, however, is simply to determine what resources will best allow graduate students to explore possibilities, and for that I find this roundtable particularly helpful.