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Jensen and Ely. An “Externship” for Teaching at Two-Year Colleges. TETYC, Mar. 2017. Posted 04/06/2017.

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Jensen, Darin, and Susan Ely. “A Partnership Teaching Externship Program: A Model That Makes Do.” Teaching English in the Two-Year College 44.3 (2017): 247-63. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.

Darin Jensen and Susan Ely describe a program to address the dearth of writing instructors prepared to meet the needs of community-college students. This program, an “externship,” was developed by the authors as an arrangement between Metropolitan Community College in Omaha, Nebraska (MCC), and the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) (247).

The authors write that as full-time faculty at MCC, they were expected to teach developmental writing but that neither had training in either basic-writing instruction or in working with community-college populations (247). When Ely became coordinator of basic writing, she found that while she could hire instructors with knowledge of first-year writing, the pool of instructors adequately prepared to teach in the particular context of community colleges “did not exist” (248).

This dearth was especially concerning because, according to a 2015 Fact Sheet from the American Association of Community Colleges, 46% of entering students attend community colleges, while a 2013 report from the National Conference of State Legislatures notes that more than 50% of these students enroll in remedial coursework (250). Community colleges also serve the “largest portion” of minority, first-generation, and low-income students (250-51).

Jensen and Ely attribute much of this lack of preparation for teaching developmental writing to the nature of graduate training; they quote a 2014 report from the Modern Language Association that characterizes graduate education as privileging the “‘narrow replication’ of scholars” at the expense, in the authors’ words, of “more substantive training in teaching” (249). Such a disconnect, the authors contend, disadvantages both the undergraduate students who need instructors versed in basic writing and the graduating literacy professionals who lack the preparation for teaching that will ensure them full-time employment (248). They quote Ellen Andrews Knodt to note that the emphasis on teaching needed to serve community-college students suffers “almost by definition” from an “inferior status” (qtd. in Jensen and Ely 249).

Jensen and Ely’s research documents a lack of attention to teacher preparation even among resources dedicated to community colleges and basic writing. Holly Hassel’s 2013 examination of Teaching English in the Two-Year College from 2001 to 2012 found only “8 of 239 articles” that addressed teacher preparation (249). In 2006, Barbara Gleason “found fewer than twenty graduate courses in teaching basic writing across the country” (250). The authors found only one issue of TETYC, in March 2001, dealing with teacher preparation, and Gleason found only two issues of the Journal of Basic Writing, from 1981 and 1984, that focused primarily on professional development for teaching this student population (250).

Given these findings and their own experiences, Jensen and Ely designed a program that would be “activist in nature” (248), committed to the idea, drawn from Patrick Sullivan, that community-college teaching participates in “the noble work of democratizing American higher education” (249).

Jensen and Ely chose Gregory Cowan’s 1971 term “externship” over “apprenticeship” because of the latter’s “problematic hierarchical nature” (251). They abandoned a preliminary internship model because the graduate students were “not really interns, but were student teachers” and did not produce traditional papers (251). Subsequent iterations were structured as independent studies under Dr. Tammie Kennedy at UNO (251).

The authors explain that neither institution fully supported the project, at least partly, they believe, because the “low value” of community-college teaching makes it “a hard sell” (252). Dr. Kennedy earned no compensation and had no clear understanding of how the work counted in her career advancement (251-52). The authors received no reassigned time and only a $500 stipend. They emphasize that these conditions “demonstrate the difficult realities” of the kind of change they hoped to encourage (252).

Students in the program committed to eighty hours of work during a spring semester, including readings, partnering on syllabus and course design, student-teaching in every community-college course meeting, participating in planning and reflections before and after the classes, and attending a collaborative grading session (252). The externship went far beyond what the authors consider typical practica for teaching assistants; it more nearly resembled the K-12 preservice model, “provid[ing] guided practice and side-by-side mentoring for the novice teacher,” as well as extensive exposure to theoretical work in serving community-college populations (252). The graduate students developed a teaching portfolio, a teaching philosophy for the community-college environment, and a revised CV (251).

The authors share their reading lists, beginning with Mike Rose’s Lives on the Boundary and Burton R. Clark’s “The ‘Cooling-Out’ Function in Higher Education,” which they value for its “counterpoint to the promise of developmental education in Rose’s books” (252). Works by Ilona Leki, Dana Ferris, and Ann Johns added insight into ESL students, while Adrienne Rich’s “Teaching Language in Open Admissions” spoke to the needs of first-generation students (253). The authors drew from Susan Naomi Bernstein’s Teaching Developmental Writing in the first year; readings on the politics of remediation came from Mary Soliday and Patrick Finn ((253).

The program emphasized course design beyond the bare introduction offered in the graduate practicum. Themed courses using “an integrated reading and writing model” involved “vocabulary acquisition, close reading, summary, explicit instruction, and discussion” (254). Jensen and Ely stress the importance of “writ[ing] with our students” and choosing texts, often narratives rather than non-fiction, based on the need to engage their particular population (255).

Another important component was the shared grading process that allowed both the authors and the graduate students to discuss and reflect on the outcomes and priorities for community-college education (255). The authors “eschew[ed] skill and drill pedagogy,” focusing on “grammar in the context of writing increasingly complex summaries and responses” (255). Though they state that the time commitment in such sessions makes them impractical “on a regular basis,” they value them as “an intense relational experience” (255).

Throughout, the authors emphasize that working with the graduate students to refine pedagogy for the community college allowed them to reflect on and develop their own theoretical understanding and teaching processes (254, 255).

The graduate students participated in interviews in which they articulated a positive response to the program (256). The authors report that while the four students in their first two years constitute too small a sample for generalization, the program contributed to success in finding full-time employment (257).

Jensen and Ely conclude that the current structure of higher education and the low regard for teaching make it unlikely that programs like theirs will be easy to establish and maintain. Yet, they note, the knowledge and professional development that will enable community-college teachers to meet the demands forced on them by the “persistence and completion” agenda can only come from adequately supported programs that offer

a serious and needed reform for the gross lack of training that universities provide to graduate students, many of whom will go on to become community college instructors. 257

Author: vanderso

I'm a recently retired associate professor of English in Southern Indiana. I've been teaching writing for twenty-five years, but I feel I have much to learn about how people really learn to write. In this blog, I'll be sharing research and thoughts and hopefully gathering information from others about the process of learning to write.

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