Across the Disciplines A Journal of Language, Learning and Academic Writing TEACHING ASSISTANTS AND WRITING ACROSS THE CURRICULUM TAs and the Teaching of Writing across the Curriculum: Introduction Bringing TAs into WAC Scholarship
Andrea Williams, Williams, Rodrigue
Although TAs have played an important role in WAC, published accounts have almost exclusively focused on the involvement and impact of faculty and undergraduate student writers. Much scholarship has been devoted to TAs housed in English departments, composition programs, or writing programs who primarily teach general education composition courses (Dobrin, 2005; Roen, Goggin, Clary-Lemon, 2008; Bishop, 1990 ). Yet there is minimal scholarship on TAs who work with student writers in other
... ines, whether in writing-intensive or linked courses, and in different capacities such as graders, autonomous instructors or writing fellows who support faculty or other TAs. The scholarship that does exist primarily focuses on the nature of and need for TA professional development in WAC programs (Strenski, 1988 (Strenski, , 1992 (Strenski, , 2001 Hedengren, 2004; Rodrigue, 2012 Rodrigue, , 2013 . While publications about composition TAs are valuable in helping us think about TAs in WAC, TAs' work with student writers in the Humanities, Social Sciences, and STEM fields needs to be explored. Such explorations will enable WAC scholars and administrators to learn more about how TAs in the disciplines work with student writers as well as how they contribute or could contribute to achieving WAC goals. This knowledge can help us determine how to best include TAs in WAC initiatives as writing fellows, writing ambassadors, and writing tutors. With the increasing number of TAs in higher education and growing number of WAC programs, such inclusion is important for building, revising, and sustaining WAC programs. This special issue is dedicated to expanding discussions about TAs in WAC with qualitative research. On the most basic level, we aim to bring visibility to the important work that TAs across the disciplines do in teaching writing in higher education in order to (1) legitimize them as teachers and as teachers of writing in their own right; (2) call attention to the need for TAs to be supported both pedagogically and financially in WAC and other professional development programs; (3) recognize the valuable work they do with student writers and faculty engaged in WAC pedagogy; and (4) examine the roles they can and do play in helping to achieve WAC goals. The lack of TA visibility in the WAC literature today echoes the invisibility of adjunct faculty in writing studies literature twenty years ago before scholars like Eileen Schell (1998) began to address the issue of contingent labor in our discipline. TAs, after all, constitute a contingent labor force, albeit one that is seldom recognized as such, particularly in the United States where few are unionized. When the academic job market was stronger, working for several years as a TA, often underpaid and overworked, was seen as paying one's dues, a form of apprenticeship that would be rewarded by a faculty job. However, in the context of the current academic job market when fewer graduate students are securing faculty appointments, the purpose and nature of teaching assistantships and the preparation TAs receive for this role deserve greater scrutiny. Yet of the over 450 presentations at the 2016 College Conference on Composition and Communication, only two addressed the role of TAs in teaching writing and six addressed the role of adjunct faculty. It is time that we acknowledge TAs' institutional roles as teachers and teachers of writing, particularly given that with tighter university budgets, dwindling tenure-track faculty positions, and larger class sizes, the number of graduate student instructors is increasing. In fact, at some institutions, TAs outnumber faculty: in 2007, TAs at public research/doctoral granting institutions in the US comprised 41% of instructional staff while faculty made up 28.9% (US Department of Education Report, 2009). These statistics speak to the growing role TAs play in undergraduate education, including disciplinary writing instruction, and the critical role they can play in achieving the goals of the WAC movement. However, only if TAs' work as teachers of writing is recognized can WAC enlist this important constituency in achieving the movement's goals. This issue is a contribution to securing such recognition for TAs through articles informed by qualitative and quantitative research. Our call for empirical research was intended to serve two distinct purposes: (1) to make TAs' roles, experiences, and needs visible through strong evidence-based research; and, on a larger scale, (2) to contribute to the growing body of empirical research in Writing Studies that responds to Chris Anson's (2008) call for a "robust, evidence based view of teaching writing and learning to write" (p. 24). The three articles in this issue effectively achieve these purposes. Although TAs have figured minimally in WAC scholarship, this is not because discussion about TAs in WAC does not occur. However, these discussions happen mostly informally: at conferences, in school hallways, and on phone or Skype calls between colleagues at different institutions. Many WAC scholars share certain beliefs about TAs' role in the teaching of writing, their unique pedagogical needs, and the kind of professional development and support needed to prepare them for their work with student writers and faculty. Yet, as Anson (2008) notes, there is a difference between beliefs based on logic, anecdote, experience or conviction, and evidence that emerges from research data. In addition to helping us better understand "what we know...about what we do," evidence enables us to make stronger arguments, and there are many arguments we need to make as WAC faculty and administrators (p.12). In the WAC community, we need to convince others-colleagues, administrators, and higher education at large-that TAs are indeed writing instructors who can and do play an important role in the teaching and learning of writing. We need to persuade administrators that TAs, despite their transient status, are worth investing in and supporting. In short, we need to make a case for how TAs can help us achieve WAC goals in various institutional contexts. More empirical research not only helps us better understand our work and to make stronger arguments to administrators about how our work can best be supported, but such research also provides us with a sense of community. Along with several recent major empirical research projects underway such as The Citation Project and The Learning Information Literacy Across the Curriculum (LILAC) project, we hope this special issue will make its own contribution to this trend and further strengthen the WAC community.