Life at a Teaching School

21 September 2016

We are so lucky to have a blog post written by Ashley Patriarca (@aspatriarca) that gives some insights into life at a teaching school. This post is a great supplement to to those on the job market as a way to think through what you want out of this job. And if you have some expertise and experiences that you want to share, please drop Lisa or any member of the steering committee a line.

West Chester University
West Chester University

I’m beginning my fourth year at West Chester University, where I teach a 4/4 load with an average of 25 students per class, advise students, perform department and university service, and coordinate the business and technical writing minor. Many of you are, like I was several years ago, beginning a new position at a teaching-intensive university, and you may not be sure of how to succeed there. It’s unsurprising that so many of us feel unready for this change. We’ve done our Ph.D. work at research-intensive universities, where we might have taught two courses per semester while doing minimal service to the department (but a lot of work towards our dissertations).

The disconnect between the kind of university we’re used to and the kind of university where we now work often means a lot of learning on the fly. Thinking about my first few years here, I’ve come up with a few pieces of advice that have helped me do well, as well as things I wish I’d realized from the beginning. Much of the advice below works for new faculty at any university, but it’s particularly important for those at teaching-intensive universities.


  1. Find multiple mentors – in your department, at your university, and, most importantly, in the field. Your university may, like mine, have well-developed mentoring programs that match you up with a senior scholar in your department and/or across the university. (If your university doesn’t have one, reach out to people! But wait till after the first department meeting – more on that in a moment.) You need these mentors to help you understand your institutional culture. However, they may not be familiar with current scholarship in technical communication. You need to stay closely connected to the field, because it’s easy to lose track of scholarly conversations when you’re focused on surviving an increased teaching load. Not sure who to ask? Ask the #womenintc community!
  2. Go to every departmental meeting you can. This is where you’ll get an excellent sense of departmental (and sometimes university-wide) dynamics and politics. My own department has experienced two reorganizations and is currently developing significant curriculum revisions. During our meetings, we’ve had robust discussions about these issues, and those discussions have revealed a lot of the department’s history. At these meetings, you’ll also quickly learn who to avoid as your mentor, because they are a) absent from or unengaged in meetings, or b) they have contentious relationships with everyone else in the department.
  3. Don’t say yes to more than three things in your first year, and make sure those three things you say yes to are close to your heart. It’s flattering to be asked to join that university-wide committee or to advise that student club. Don’t do it right away, though: this work takes you away from learning to balance your teaching (and grading!) load. It also takes you away from what you need to do to get tenure, even at a teaching-intensive university: research. I said yes to more than I should have in my first year, and I wound up having to step back from several of those projects.
  4. Find ways to mesh your service, teaching, and research. In my second year, I became involved in a committee designed to help faculty and students address the sexual assault crisis on campus. This committee work led to assignments of varying length and complexity in several classes; for example, one class tested the usability of the website used for reporting sexual assaults, and another rewrote the part of our university website that focuses on sexual assault resources. In turn, the work in those classes has led to collaboration on several pedagogical research articles. This process took time, but it’s become a defining element of who I am as a scholar, a teacher, and a member of my university community.
  5. Figure out a grading and response system that works for you, and stick to it. I have job postings, resumes, and cover letters from 75 students waiting to be graded as soon as I finish this blog post. Three years ago, I might have read and commented on multiple drafts and given substantial feedback on the final draft. I’ve shifted to a response system that encourages dedicated students to visit me during office hours during the drafting process, provides detailed feedback on the final draft and rubric, and allows students to revise even beyond that “final” draft if they wish.

Whatever else you do, whether you take this advice or not, be kind to yourself. The first year in any new job is difficult, and it takes time to adapt to a new university culture.

Have more advice for new faculty in teaching-intensive roles? Share it in the comments!







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