Hello CompPost Readers!
My name is Virginia “Gin” Schwarz, and I am a 6th year PhD student serving as co-assistant director of English 100 this spring. In the past, I worked as the assistant director for English 201 (our intermediate composition course) and as the director of the Greater University Tutoring Services, GUTS (the university-wide free tutoring service for languages, STEM fields, and study skills). When I teach, I want students to enjoy their writing class and, if possible, enjoy college.
I learned how to teach from community college students at Los Angeles Southwest College, Clark College, and Portland Community College. Their generosity and kindness really shaped the way I approach classroom design. I learned to listen. I think students are smart, and they usually already know what they need as learners. We just need to give them as many opportunities as possible to tell us. And when we begin to listen, we can start to collaborate and build classrooms spaces together.
UW-Madison students taught me a lot, too. They taught me how to be brave and facilitate conversations about identity and privilege. English 100 and English 201 became spaces where we could challenge the racism on our campus and in our class. I also learned how to teach pre-nursing students, engineering students, and education students. To do all of this, I needed to accept my role as an outside reader and encourage students to write for audiences other than me.
English 100 affords us, as teachers, opportunities to be a person’s first college class. We get to show students where the campus resources are and how to function within the invisible norms of school (e.g., emailing your instructor). We also get to watch our former students become authors, counselors, health care professionals, CEOs, and activists. When I graduate this year, I will be standing next to several of my former students. Sharing the day with that group motivates me to keep going.
Being a TA is a difficult job and sometimes institutional constraints make it hard for us to enjoy teaching our courses. Equity work is both pedagogical and institutional. At the core, though, every term we get to work with 19 people, each with the potential to teach us something important about teaching or about ourselves. I cannot think of another job that would offer me that kind of perspective.
I teach because I want students to enjoy college. They have helped me enjoy college, too.
I can’t wait to hear more about your English 100 classrooms and students!