The Compositionist’s Song

Oh, sweet literature. The pride and joy of English majors everywhere.

My boyfriend studied literature in his Master’s program. In fact, most of my friends from my graduate cohort focused their studies in literature. My uncle, too, has a graduate degree with a concentration in literature. Out of a pack of literature scholars, I am the lonely compositionist.

I became an English major in undergrad simply because I loved reading and writing more than I loved anything else. While I certainly did love the reading I got to do in college, I found myself not enjoying the writing as much as I had hoped. I loved the writing I was producing in my creative writing courses, but I hated academic writing. I did not enjoy literary analysis papers at all, and, naively, that’s all I thought English majors could ever write. I thought that was the extent of research for English majors.

Everything changed, of course, when I entered graduate school.

As an M.A. student, I selected writing as my concentration. I was still operating under the impression that I was going to pursue an MFA and be a prolific fiction writer, and the writing concentration allowed more easily for a creative writing course than the literature and teaching tracks. But, since I was a teaching assistant, composition studies quickly became a large part of my coursework whether I wanted it to or not. Since we all had to teach composition, we were expected to know composition pedagogy and be familiar with significant research in the field.

These studies, paired with my experiences working in the campus writing center and my first ventures into planning my own second-year writing course, eventually made me start falling head-over-heels in love with composition. Being in my own classroom later on pushed me right over the edge into full-blown obsession. I couldn’t remember what life was like before composition, and I didn’t want to imagine a future career without it.

I love how composition studies is so heavily based in the real world. This is what our students, regardless of background, major, or career plans, are doing on a day-to-day basis. They are composing constantly, for school and otherwise…essays, research papers, lab reports, Facebook updates, group texts, tweets, blog posts…the types of writing our students are doing is practically limitless. Composition instructors are not just teaching students how to write a paper that will get them an A; we are teaching them how to be effective communicators and critical thinkers in our classes, in all of the students’ others courses, and in students’ professional lives beyond college. Campus writing centers further serve to help students become more independent thinkers, writers, and students, and don’t even get me started on how many other wonderful things writing centers do.

Will universities ever truly appreciate the work that composition instructors and writing centers do? Probably not. Will students ever truly appreciate it? Definitely not. But that’s okay. We as compositionists will continue to quietly serve our students and our universities anyway.



Dating App Denial

The other night, for some ungodly reason, I started thinking about dating apps.

I have to admit, I’ve never used a dating app before. After a few weird encounters with a couple of individuals I met through Plenty of Fish in college, I decided online dating just wasn’t for me. So, when Tinder hit the market and became the new face of dating among my peers, I promptly said no thanks.

One of my dear friends is single and always on the look-out for a relationship. He has pretty much every relevant dating app on his phone, and he checks them consistently. He has “talked to” many different individuals through these apps and met several of them face-to-face (probably even more times than I’m aware of). Some of these people seem perfectly nice, and, for the most part, they are. But, for some reason, his contact with these potential mates never seems to endure beyond a handful of dates. It either simply doesn’t work out, or, as he has found over and over again, a lot of these app users really aren’t looking for anything serious.

Having said that, I do find myself wondering if anyone has truly found love on Tinder. And I mean real, long-term love, not the kind of thing that sorta almost resembles love for a night or two. Are we, as a generation, trying to use dating apps to find something that simply cannot be found through the screens of our smartphones?

I keep thinking about my own relationship and its humble beginnings. We love and trust each other completely because we were good friends before we were in a romantic relationship, and we knew each other as coworkers and classmates before that. We were in each other’s lives for an entire year and a half before we ventured into a relationship.I have never felt this safe and comfortable with anyone in my entire life…but is that only because of how we met? Could I have found this same thing through a dating app? Or would I have been doomed to an endless series of mediocre dates?

Honestly, I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. I can only speak from my own experience and my observations of my friends’ love lives (or lack thereof). But I’m interested in knowing if this is possible. Where are those Tinder success stories at? I would love to hear some.

The Peer Review Problem

As a composition instructor, peer review is one of my favorite things. In fact, it might be my favorite thing about teaching composition. I love hearing students engage in dynamic conversations about writing. I love watching them realize that they do know how to recognize good writing and that each individual has a unique way of approaching the assignment. I love how peer review truly allows students to become active agents in their own learning.

Ironically,  I hated peer review as a student. I didn’t like the written feedback method, and reviewers never really said anything. So, in my first year as a college composition instructor,  I took it upon myself to experiment with different styles of peer review in an effort to find a method that students would benefit from and, maybe, actually enjoy.

Amazingly, I was successful in this endeavor. I found not one, but multiple, methods of peer review that my sophomore students liked better than the standard written response. As I would walk around the room, I would hear genuine and in-depth conversations about the papers, writing in general, and the students as writers. I continually received strong essays from students who took peer review seriously. It was fantastic.

Now that I’m in my second year of teaching entirely on my own, I have tried these same methods with my first year students at multiple institutions. With one group of students, peer review is going fantastically. In the other classes, though? Not so much. They try the methods, sure. They follow the directions, yes. But they’re breezing through the workshops as quickly as possible. For the most part, these students are not having the genuine conversations I am trying to encourage them to have.

It’s all so frustrating because I don’t think they understand how important this is and how beneficial it can be when given the proper amount of time and effort. I don’t think they care about helping their classmates become better writers. I don’t think some of them even care about becoming better writers themselves. But I will keep trying. I will keep experimenting with new styles and gaining student feedback. I will conquer the peer review problem.

Fellow composition instructors, do you have particular methods of peer review that you like to use? Leave them as a comment! I’d be happy to share any of my methods as well!


Under Pressure

Before my 8 A.M. class the other day, I ran into one of my friends from grad school out in the hallway. This friend is currently in her second (and final) year as a MA student and teaching assistant, and we were catching up about how classes were going when I asked her if she was still applying to PhD programs.

I knew her answer before she even said the words.

“No,” she said. “I think I’m just going to do what you did and work for a year.” 

Why was I not surprised by her answer? Because I had made the same decision myself, not just once, but now two years in a row.

Since our university only offers a terminal MA program, the pressure to apply to and be accepted into PhD programs is incredibly high. We get this pressure from our TA advisers, our professors, and our department chair. Alternative careers are pretty much only discussed at the grad students’ requests, and, while the faculty would never openly admit it, such alt-ac careers are somewhat looked down upon in the department.

Because of this emphasis on PhD program placement, professional development for MA students is highly prized in our department. We hear about the importance of attending and presenting at conferences over and over again, with CFPs being passed along to us all of the time. In every class, we are told how much having published writing matters and receive tips on how to revise class assignments for publication. We are encouraged to participate in workshops, join department committees, volunteer for campus events, and chair presentations for conferences on campus. All of this is, of course, on top of a full load of graduate courses. Oh, yeah, and we have two classes to teach.

As MA students and teaching assistants,  we are split into three different roles: that of student, that of teacher, and that of emerging scholar. We are supposed to be the best we can be in all three categories in order to better our chances of getting those coveted positions in doctoral programs. Beyond our coursework, class planning, and grading, we are so consumed with conferences and publications that GRE scores, writing samples, and personal statements fall to the wayside. We’re so busy trying to become the best candidates that we can be that we run out of the time and energy necessary to actually apply for these programs when application season rolls around. So, we put off applying, hoping to give our materials the time and attention they deserve the next time around.

And the cycle begins again.




Important Differences

We ran into his ex the other day. They hadn’t seen each other since their bad breakup, nearly two years ago, so I didn’t know what would happen. But, we simply kept walking, and neither of them acknowledged the other’s presence. It was awkward as hell, but definitely could’ve been a lot worse.

I knew him during the last few months of his relationship with her, and I had met her myself while they were still together. After they broke up, I spent several months as the designated friend for him to vent to. When we finally started dating, about a year after his previous relationship had ended, her influence on him and his views of dating became even more apparent.

When we first started dating, he said it would be at least 10 years before he considered marrying someone. He said that he didn’t want to make plans for future things we would do as a couple. He said that he wasn’t really into holding hands, unless it was some sort of special occasion. He would always profusely apologize when he wasn’t able to pay for dinner for us both, and he definitely seemed confused when I didn’t ask him to buy the anklet I picked out for myself on vacation.

In the mere nine months we’ve been dating, there’s been a big change in the list of things he swore he wouldn’t or couldn’t do. While he does still apologize for not being able to take me out on as many fancy dates as he would like, he knows that it doesn’t upset me, and he surprises me with dinners out and little thoughtful gifts from time to time. As for hand holding only on special occasions, such occasions for us can be as “special” as walking across a parking lot. He’s been talking about our first anniversary (which will be in January) since September, and we talk about trips we’d like to take together all of the time. We’re both in agreement that we should probably be together about 3 years before we even start discussing marriage, which has made him much comfortable talking about his someday wedding and future kids. More than once, he has even talked about marriage in terms of US getting married, before he catches himself.

So, what I’ve learned from this is that the best relationships are those in which you can be honest and open about what you do and don’t want, but in a way that is respectful of your partner’s dos and don’ts as well.  He willingly holds my hand in parking lots because I don’t tell him he has to. He openly talks about marriage because he knows I’m not going to push him into it before we’re both ready. I don’t demand those kinds of things from him, so he gives them to me willingly. And he actually enjoys it.

So, no, I’m not her, and I never will be. Our relationship is not their relationship, and that’s a good thing.