Minimum qualifications: Who should teach first-year writing?

Richard E. Miller, Michael J. Cripps

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

4 Scopus citations


Who is qualified to teach the first-year writing course? Only scholars who have earned doctoral degrees in rhetoric and composition studies? English professors? Part-Time lecturers with an interest in literacy? Graduate students working in the language arts? Anyone who wants to? Anyone who can be made to? Anyone who will? One could argue that the discipline of composition studies was brought into being at the moment institutions for higher education began to explore all available solutions to the perennial problem that is student writing. Or put another way, one could say that composition studies as a field is simply the concatenation of local institutional responses to the challenge of providing fundamental writing instruction to first-year students. Seen in this light, the teaching of writing is always ultimately a local matter, and so too is the question of who is best suited to do this work, since the answers to this question can only be sought within the inevitably narrow field of possible solutions that are marked out by local institutional constraints. Thus, we contend that treating the question of who should teach composition as a philosophical, pedagogical, or (most commonly) moral matter distorts the reality that prevails in every writing program in the country; the question of who teaches firstyear writing is determined not only by the local WPA's philosophical, pedagogical, and political commitments, but also by a host of variables entirely beyond the local WPA's control; the pool of possible applicants in the region; the home institution's history with writing instruction; the financial well-being of the home institution; and who happens to be department chair, area dean, and provost at any given moment. By drawing attention to these local constraints and the role they play in shaping the available solutions to the problem of staffing the first-year course, we maintain that all WPAs are always working in a compromised space-one that is never fully under any one person's control, never fully a reflection of one's own sense of what is best or ideal, never anything more than a temporary realization of what is best (under the circumstances) for the time being. While we don't see our position as distinctly postmodern, the fact that we have chosen to eschew a single, overarching narrative in this essay in order to provide a multi-perspectival account reflects our own unease with grand narratives. Our four overlapping versions of the Rutgers Writing Program's approach to staffing freshman composition are meant to foreground both the multiple forces at play in the narrative and the locally relevant measures of success. Our contention is that this condition of local responsiveness is common to all WPAs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationDiscord and Direction
PublisherUtah State University Press
Number of pages17
ISBN (Print)9780874216172
StatePublished - 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Sciences(all)


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