English Department Hosts Orientation for New and Returning Graduate Students

A new cohort of 21 PhD and MFA students joins the Department, and returning graduate students talk through their teaching plans

Before the 2015-2016 school year began, the Department hosted an orientation for both the incoming Teaching Fellows and first-time teachers of record on August 20-22.  Jen Wingard, Associate Professor and Director of Upper Division Studies, organized and led this year’s orientation, creating the three-day event to acclimate students to the department, the role of first-year facilitators in the hybrid writing courses, and the Human Resources practical matters of department business and ethics.

Wingard explained, “Even though it is a material orientation [for Cougar Cards, PeopleSoft, etc.], it is still a way to introduce them to the important aspects of their new place of employment. The goals are ideological in the sense that they introduce the new TAs to the student population, state requirements, and teaching practices here at University of Houston. Orientation is required for all entering TAs (even TAs who have taught at other institutions), and we use orientation to teach the TAs what is unique about UH’s first-year writing sequence. It is the goal that students will leave orientation with a strong understanding of how our curricular commitments and delivery methods are creatively responsive to our state regulations and our student population.”

Orientation is also one of the few ways that incoming cohorts—across the disciplines of Creative Writing, Rhetoric and Composition, and Literature—get to know each other.  The incoming cohort has come from across the nation, and for many, this is their first time in Houston.  The hope is that these three days will not only introduce them to the University and Department, but also each other. 

Kyle Chalker, first-year PhD (Rhetoric and Composition) student, found the orientation to be helpful and not overwhelming.  “It was a good balance of taking care of administrative requirements and getting to know the department,” he offered, “I appreciated having this time to acclimate to the campus and the new program before the school year began.”

First-time instructors of record also participated in Orientation, with the final day including a Teaching Orientation for second-year Teaching Fellows.  Because this would be their first year in the classroom (having participated as facilitators in the previous year), this part of orientation was designed for them to review elements of being first-time teachers at UH.  The Department’s Writing Fellows led these sessions, which included topics on planning the course, working with Blackboard, teaching L2 students, and developing the teacher ethos. 

Second-year MFA student Jonathan Meyer will an instructor of record for the first time in the UH classroom this semester, having been a facilitator last year.  He was glad for the information: “Learning how to ‘chunk out’ a class session, how to handle a difficult or unresponsive group, and how to define my ‘teaching persona’ were all enormously helpful to planning out my classes. These are pretty basic tricks of the trade, after all, but it was helpful to hear about them from more experienced teachers. I am grateful to Mary Gray, Jessica Lee, Claire Anderson, Kristiane Stapleton, and Jen Wingard for sharing their expertise.”

Orientation marked the graduate students’ beginnings with professionalizing within The Department, and they can look for future events during the school year.

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