11. Sound writing instruction is provided by instructors with reasonable and equitable working conditions.
Writing instructors perform most effectively—and students writers learn best—when instructors are treated as professionals and provided with resources that allow them to focus on their students’ development as writers. Instructors should be recognized as professionals regardless of their position—tenured, tenure-track, emeritus, non-tenure-track, full-time, or part-time—and granted the respect due to any contributing member of a department or program. This recognition should include the opportunity to participate in the governance of the department, program, and college or university and the opportunity to contribute to the development of writing curriculum and instruction. Instructors also require adequate resources—including (but not limited to) time, reasonable class sizes, and physical surroundings—to provide sound writing instruction as outlined in this document. Instructors should also earn a living wage and receive health coverage and other benefits in line with the recommendations of professional organizations.
Institutions can provide reasonable and equitable working conditions by establishing teaching loads and class sizes that are consistent with disciplinary norms. Institutions can also provide these conditions by paying instructors a reasonable wage and providing access to benefits. Institutions should provide resources necessary to effective instruction, including office space to meet with students individually, computers and network access, and office technologies (such as photocopiers). Institutions should also facilitate instructor access to personnel and units that can inform their practices and offer helpful efficiencies such as librarians, writing centers and directors, and teaching and learning centers. Institutions should also foster department and program cultures that recognize instructors, whether in appointments that emphasize research and scholarship or in those that focus fully or primarily on teaching or administration, as scholars and full members of the discipline. Institutions should ensure that all members of a department or program have the opportunity to participate in shared governance.
I. Number of Students in Writing Courses
“Recommendation: College English teachers should not teach more than three sections of composition per term. The number of students in each section should be fifteen or fewer, with no more than twenty students in any case. Class size should be no more than fifteen in developmental (remedial) courses. No English faculty member should teach more than sixty writing students a term; if students are developmental, the maximum should be forty-five.
The process of learning to write clearly and effectively is not a simple matter of acquiring information or memorizing rules. It requires a parallel and simultaneous process of learning to read with more sophistication. Because reading and writing are related activities, learning to write entails a complex interaction between writer and reader. Students write; teachers respond. But a teacher’s response must be more than “correcting” and more than perfunctory grading. Evaluations must involve a detailed reaction, often in conference with the student, to each piece of writing.
Good teachers want to teach as many students as they can teach well. But if teachers are forced to respond to the writing of more than sixty students weekly, they will necessarily oversimplify their responses. Their students will not learn that the basic ingredient of good writing and good reading is the ready and vigorous ability to understand, to formulate, and to express ideas. Students will regard their own writing as a mere exercise, unworthy of careful attention or serious thought.
Students in developmental (remedial) composition need considerable individual help and more detailed responses. Students in advanced composition, business and technical writing, or creative writing are likely to produce a greater volume of more complex writing; thus a greater proportion of a teacher’s time is required to respond to what they have written.”
III. Hours of Instruction
“Recommendation: College English teachers should spend no more than twelve hours per week per semester in the classroom if they are involved in undergraduate instruction exclusively and no more than nine hours per week if they are involved in graduate instruction. Although this document stipulates the maximum teaching loads commensurate with quality teaching, it should not preclude a department’s varying workloads among teachers. Institutions that require faculty members to publish for tenure and promotion should lower teaching loads, especially for junior faculty members.
Limitations on the number of courses assigned to teachers are essential to guarantee quality instruction. The hours spent with students in the classroom constitute only a fraction of an English teacher’s responsibility. That responsibility includes time spent in organizing and preparing material to be used in the classroom and in responding to work students have done inside and outside the classroom, whether in literature or in composition courses. It also includes hours spent in the office working with students individually and hours spent in the professional study that is necessary for keeping up with current scholarship.
The proportion of time a teacher spends on out-of-class activities varies, depending on the kind and level of courses offered. Whatever the assignment and the type of college, sufficient allowance must be made for preparation, responses, conferences, and professional improvement. Without these allowances, teaching can become mechanical and learning can be diminished. The responsibility for assigning and adjusting workloads of individual faculty members should rest with the department.”
Pay and Hours
The amount of time teachers have to spend with or on individual students has been carefully examined specifically for writing courses in college. In terms of issues like time per student and pay rates for teachers, it is clear that smaller classes are crucial. Richard Haswell of Texas A&M Corpus Christi has calculated a conservative estimate of the time involved in teaching typical first-year writing courses, using forty minutes per paper and allowing for two drafts, comments and grading, as follows: 25 students, four substantial out-of-class essays, one required individual conference, end-of-the-semester portfolio of writings. The total is 231 hours. That is the most conservative estimate, and a more realistic one probably would add at least 20-30 hours.
Notice that an 8-hour day of 15 weeks of 5 working days a week adds up to 600 hours. With two writing courses, and with one third the preparation time allowed for the second
course (30 minutes instead of 90), the total is 402 hours. With three writing courses, the teacher is already working overtime(633 hours). (Haswell n.p.) Add a fourth class, as do many part-time instructors and teachers in community colleges, and the time factor increases significantly. As Haswell goes on to point out, this is the reason that several national organizations have called for lower class sizes in first-year writing courses.
Moreover, Randall Popken, who is a WPA at Tarleton State University in Texas, writing in College Composition and Communication in 2004, showed that class size is a long-standing, serious issue with his historical case study of Edwin Hopkins, a writing teacher at the University of Kansas from 1889 to 1937 (618-41). Hopkins, following the then relatively new composition pedagogy of having students write extensively, reached the point of a breakdown from sheer overwork. As a WPA, he tried repeatedly to get his administration to lower class size, but in a story familiar to us all, was unsuccessful (Popkin 625-29). Popken’s report on Hopkins becomes particularly pertinent to this discussion when he describes the argument Hopkins used with his administration, helping to explain why composition class sizes should be treated differently than the class sizes of other subjects, namely that composition entails intensive labor in reading student writing and seeing students for individual conferences. His argument, as Popken
reports, falls on deaf ears (627), not a surprising outcome to WPAs.
Pay rates make the same argument more strongly—a point also raised by Hopkins (Popken 621, 634). Using my university, a fairly typical medium-sized state university of 17,000 students, as an example, the following calculation shows why smaller classes would be helpful to teachers. Our current union contract sets beginning first-year writing instructors’ salaries at about $3800 per section taught. Teachers have 22 students per section currently, so the pay is about $172 per student. If teachers have 20 students, the pay is $190. If teachers have 18 students, the pay is $211. Given this calculation, naturally instructors are in favor of smaller classes since lowering class size produces a pay raise.
Moreover, the pay situation creates a disincentive for teachers to give individual students the individual time and attention needed to help them become effective writers. The more time teachers spend grading and conferencing, the less they are getting paid. My institution pays pretty well, better than many places. At an hourly rate, using Haswell’s figure of approximately 230 hours per course, and my institution’s pay rate of $3800, the pay works out to $16.50 an hour. Increase class size and the hourly pay rate goes down. On the whole, then, in terms of pay, small classes are better for faculty. (Horning, 2007, p. 17-18).
“We find that both class size and student load negatively impact student assessments of courses and instructors. Large classes and heavy student loads appear to prompt faculty to alter their courses in ways deleterious to students.”