I spent most of the winter break in Richmond Hill, Georgia, a small town just southeast of Savannah, a small town where Henry Ford summered and established schools for poor rural folk, a small town where Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band calls home.
There ain’t much in Richmond Hill. It’s a couple of long straight two lane roads running by old Live Oaks draped in Spanish Moss and parallel to the Ogeechee river and marsh after marsh.
In the early morning before my kids awake and bring chaos to the day, I spent time browsing through journal issues I neglected during the semester. A few days before Christmas, as I sat on a wooden rocking chair by the bank of the low-tide Ogeechee, I returned to a 2013 special issue of College Composition and Communication. For this special issue, then-editor Kathleen Blake Yancey invited full-length articles and vignettes on “what profession means to those of us in writing studies.”
I remember this issue landing in my mailbox at a transitory time in my professional life. I walked across the stage, shook the hand of the president, got hooded, and received my PhD in May of ’13 and made the move with a pregnant wife and kid in August of ’13. When this special issue found its way into my mailbox at the University of North Georgia—just a few weeks into my first semester on the tenure-line—it got slide to the side.
I browsed it briefly because Michele Eodice—one of diss committee members has a co-authored piece it in—and I briefly marveled at and tweeted about the great definition of scholarship offered by Michael Day et al: “Being a scholar, in short, means engaging in reflective, well-informed practices that help us accomplish the goals of advancing and sharing our knowledge of what it means to write and be a writer” (186). I also spend some time with Caroline Dadas’s article on the job market and how search committees can work to accommodate job seekers (two years later when I chaired my first search, I inserted many of her helpful suggestions).
But the vignettes and other articles didn’t get my time.
So that early morning in December 2016 they did.
The reflective stance of the articles and vignettes struck me. The special issue feels like a State of the Union Address: Here’s where we are, here’s how we got here, here’s where we can go—with your help!
And I found myself mining the vignettes for use in my role as director of FYC, specifically as I lead professional development efforts with my 60 plus colleagues who teach FYC and our remedial writing courses.
Kathleen Sheerin DeVore introduces readers to her friend Steve. For DeVore, Steve is her richest “example of a writing teacher’s life” even though his “primary site of engagement was always the writing classroom.” Steve didn’t write textbooks, speak at national conferences, or see his works published in leading journals—he was a committed writing teacher to the students in his time and space of engagement.
Margaret Finnegan introduces readers to Amy, a student registered with the disabilities officer and for whom English is not a native language. Amy is struggled to pass a required writing class and has already failed twice (once by Finnegan). Finnegan takes readers to the table where Amy and her sit and poke at prose. And where Amy expresses confusion, doubt, fear, as the words struggle to come.
I kept reading the vignettes: I read about teaching in prison, sitting at a dinner table with “big-names” in the field, running a writing center while pregnant and writing a dissertation.
As the sun crawled over the reedy banks of the Ogeechee, my mind turned to my 60 plus colleagues back in the mountains of Northeast Georgia. I was preparing a beginning of the semester email about updated FYC outcomes and policy.
But maybe, I thought, I should include two of the vignettes.
Maybe the best push into a new semester in which we, as a department, will teach over close to a quarter of the entire undergraduate student population—and do so with dwindling financial and material resources, and do so with lofty and misguided expectations about what writing is and how it should be taught that are promulgated by many of our internal and external stakeholders, and do so, even though Geoffrey Sirc wrote, also in CCC, that “teaching writing is impossible”—maybe the best push isn’t a push, but a pause, an email giving an opportunity to reflect on the life of a writing teacher.