Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Developmental Writing in the Historical Trajectory of Rhetoric

This post originally appeared at Balancing Jane

"So when you get your PhD, will they let you teach real classes?"

This question came from a student in my first year of teaching developmental writing. I was saddened by her apparent belief that she wasn't a "real" student and told her so, but the question kept coming up in different forms.

One particularly strong writer who had spent the semester producing complex pieces of analysis written with poetic flair seemed almost angry as he visited me in office hours (voluntarily) to talk about his future plans as a writer: "What is this? Are you just trying to be a big fish in a small pond? Why are you teaching this class?"

Most heartbreaking of all was a student who said in front of the entire class, "You seem really smart, so why are you teaching us?"

It's a question I've gotten from other sources, too. Colleagues and classmates have asked me what I want to end up teaching, as if a career in developmental education could only be a stepping stone and never a goal. They mean well, and I actually think it's often meant as a compliment, but it stings because I know that their perception is contributing to the cultural climate that makes my students think of themselves as unworthy of "real" teaching, as unfit for a "real" college class.

It, quite frankly, breaks my heart.

And as a scholar of rhetorical history, it also perplexes me.