Date of Award

7-23-2013

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Claude M. Hurlbert, D.A.

Second Advisor

Gian S. Pagnucci, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Jeannine M. Fontaine, Ph.D.

Abstract

This dissertation is a bounded case study that examines the attitudes and perceptions of Teaching Assistants (TAs) in Composition about their TA preparation in an independent writing program at a large public research university in California. Specifically, this study focuses on TAs who were pursuing Ph.D.s in either English Literature or Composition. Given that TAs' preparation for teaching first-year Composition is traditionally held within English departments, TAs commonly hail from either Literature or Composition graduate programs. Yet anecdotal evidence, literature in the field, and institutional history all point to a tension between the factions of Literature and Composition within the larger field of English Studies. With this tension in mind, a primary concern for this study has been developing an understanding of disciplinary differences and how they manifest within a TA preparation program in an independent writing unit, separate from English. Therefore, the overarching question in this study focuses on whether TAs from Composition and from Literature respond differently to their TA preparation program and, if so, to what extent disciplinary affiliations play a role. Methods for data collection include conducting two-part interviews with five students from each of the two disciplines as well as analyzing the TA preparation instructor's narrative teaching evaluations over a three-year period. Aggregate results of a survey given to the program's TAs for the purposes of a program review were also considered. The data collected for this study revealed a clear divide between the TAs from Literature and the TAs from Composition. TAs from the two groups responded to the programs differently, displayed different levels of engagement and resistance, and took away different principles and practices in manners consistent with their respective disciplinary philosophies and affiliations. As further support for this analysis, participants reported that they perceived a divide between Literature and Composition TAs in their preparation courses that they attributed to differences in disciplinary allegiances, interests and philosophies. Results also suggest that institutional policies and practices can influence how TAs perceive and respond to their TA preparation, which may further exacerbate these tensions.

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