4C2022 “I’m Doing My Best” Practices: Challenges and Innovations in Graduate Teacher Training

Session Information

Live Roundtable Session
Session J3 (March 12th, 2pm)
#4C2022 March 9th-12th, 2022, Virtual Conference


  • Kailyn Shartel Hall
  • Marisa Yerace – @MarisaEY on Twitter, www.myerace.com
  • Linda Haynes – lhaynes@purdue.edu
  • Margaret Weaver – MargaretWeaver@missouristate.edu
  • Ti Macklin – timacklin@boisestate.edu


If we ask graduate students in first-year writing practicum why they’re here, we’ll usually get a single response: “Because I’m required to be here.” Many of our programs require that our new graduate instructors learn to teach composition, and the practicum is treated as foundational pedagogical training. The faculty who teach these practicums take on the weight of that responsibility: these new instructors often make up the majority of the staff who teach our first-year writing courses, so their training needs to meet the needs not only of a single classroom but also of the local writing program. The graduate students in these practicums are diverse not only in life experiences, but also in teaching experiences and career goals, and a good mentor works to meet those students where they are. The practicum serves students from across the program and often in multiple fields of English and Writing Studies. Some have no teaching experience, some may. The faculty mentors have the difficult task of ensuring that these graduate students not only learn the foundational skills required to teach composition, but also that they communicate those skills to their students.    

The field is not hurting for literature on best practices in graduate teacher training (Dobrin, 2005; Estrem & Reid, 2012 “Writing Pedagogy Education”; Hult, 1994; Pytlik & Liggett, 2002; Reid et al., 2012 “The Effects of Writing Pedagogy Education”) and WPA work and literature often maintains an emphasis on meeting local needs. However, mentors of new graduate instructors are often working in circumstances that are less than ideal and in which “best practices” may not be feasible. Institutional resources are key to the work of training new teachers, but sometimes those resources are few or nonexistent. As Rupiper Taggart and Lowry (2011) addressed, much of the work in the practicum is about surviving the first year of teaching, and that felt sense is much more palpable across the field after the experiences of teaching and mentoring in 2020. Innovative improvisation is key to survival, for mentors and for new graduate students. For the practicum mentor, that improvisation has a farther reaching impact: it influences not just one classroom, but potentially the classroom of each graduate student they mentor. 

This roundtable will explore, through moderated discussion, questions that invite us to consider the complexities of how graduate training programs fit within not only our writing programs but our institutions. We will discuss content related concerns such as topics that graduate students struggle with in the practicum, but we’ll also discuss larger scale issues like what we do when our institutions take away a dedicated practicum for new instructors. This roundtable will also discuss the emotional labor that mentoring new graduate students involves, from both a faculty and graduate student peer mentor level. The speakers have decades of mentoring experience between them, so we’ll also discuss what they have noticed as shifts in graduate teacher training methods over time. The roundtable will also dedicate time for questions from the audience in order to invite additional perspectives on these issues.

Session Materials

Note: Session presented Live. Transcript will be available after presentation on 3/12/22.