What I’m Working On: Rachel Gramer


Gramer photoWhat do stories tell us? And how?

What counts as a story depends on who’s listening, how, and why.

I want to tell a story about new writing teachers. I’m in the middle of interviews now, so I don’t know what these stories will tell me.

I want to tell a story based on deep rhetorical listening. As scholar-teachers, we talk a lot with colleagues and students. But what questions do we not get asked about our teaching and ourselves? I want to sit with people, listen, hear their stories, interpretations of their pasts, and motivations inspiring their imagined futures.

I want to tell a story that asks questions about personal histories of teaching and learning. About who new writing teachers want to be and who they think they should be—and the narrative threads that connect these two in ways that are complex to experience, tricky to make sense of, and difficult to articulate.

I want to tell a story that digs deep into the power of storytelling, talk, and relationship-building to shape the kinds of professionals we are and want to be(come).

My dissertation is in the process of eliciting new writing teachers’ life stories of teaching and learning at moments when their professional identities are beginning and shifting. My study uses artifact-based interviews as its primary method, and my stance is grounded in feminist research methodologies and interdisciplinary theories of learning, identity, motivation, and participation. My data analysis will participate in histories of narrative, linguistic, and discourse analysis in writing studies, sociolinguistics, and education.

I have several foundational assumptions that many of us tacitly recognize: identities are learned, narratives have power to shape identities, learning is largely about motivation, and teaching is not the same as telling. Each of these is challenging enough to enact daily; altogether, they point to slippery terms we take for granted (how would you define “learning”?), or bandy about or abandon (is “identity” a thing we “have” or “make”? and what kind of thing?).

The simplest of questions leads to whole configurations of far more complex questions before I have anything resembling answers. What do we do when so much is new? Why do individual teachers take up certain practices over others? Does any of our new teacher preparation work? If so, how—and why?

These questions have led me to narrative, which seems an even bigger and more delicious mess. How do the stories we tell (or not) reflect and inflect how we negotiate multiple circulating narratives of identity? And what kinds of support would help newcomers to our field learn to negotiate these often conflicting stories?

These are the questions I’ve ended up with thus far. My goal is to use them to try to answer a question that gets less attention: rather than “how do we teach/train GTAs to teach?” I want to ask, “how do GTAs learn to become writing teachers?” If we know a little more about that, then we can offer even better support. That’s a research story I’m sticking to.

I am a third year doctoral candidate and fellow who has recently begun my dissertation work in earnest, and I am currently an Assistant Director of Composition and the Digital Media Research Assistant to Mary P. Sheridan. I believe everything can be a story, and I love to ask questions that people want to be asked.


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