For freshman students, Writing 101 is a place to apply what they learned in high school and navigate the ropes of a college course. For English graduate students, it is often their first teaching position in which they are guided by their own undergrad experiences and are learning how to balance their own priorities.
Daniela Garvue remembers being in Writing 101 as a freshman in Nebraska, sitting in the back of the class, trying to avoid eye contact. She returns this fall to Writ 101 at the University of Montana as an instructor. One of her philosophies is using humor in and beyond the classroom.
“It’s nice if I can just get my students to laugh and not feel like they have to take life so seriously,” Garvue said. “It took me a long time to get comfortable enough to talk to my TAs … Hopefully I can catch those kids who are maybe a little nervous.”
Danielle Cooney is a second-year creative writing graduate student from California with two semesters of teaching Writ 101 under her belt. She currently teaches Intro to Poetry. Her experience in her younger schooling days was the opposite of Garvue’s.
“I was little miss gold star. I was the first one to raise my hand constantly,” Cooney said.
Cooney spent time in college teaching kids with learning challenges, which helped her understand different learning styles and find varieties of teaching methods. She focuses on small group work and building a community where students can share more comfortably.
Her Writing 101 teaching experiences have prepared her for Poetry, where she wrote her own syllabus and teaches her own texts. It’s more work than Writ 101, but the reward is even higher when students are engaged and learning.
“Almost every time I come out of the classroom I feel reenergized,” she said.
A first-year in the master’s of literature program, Reed Puc is eager to create a similarly energizing, safe space for their diverse group of students in Writ 101 this semester. “It’s an uncanny experience where you are switching between hats multiple times a day,” Puc says. Graduate students are taking two, three, or more other, regular classes while they teach.
Puc might pursue teaching at the collegiate level after earning their master’s degree, and they enjoy the support the TA program gives for first time instructors. “It’s kind of nice to have a safer space with more sort of support networks built-in for me to kind of figure out how that works,” they said.
First year Writ 101 teachers also participate in a once-a-week debriefing class where they go over the assignments, lesson plans, and use each other as resources. Puc also uses personal experience to guide their priorities in the classroom. They said it is important to them to reach out to students about their pronouns so everyone feels respected and welcome.
Openness, authenticity and balance make graduate students especially understanding when it comes to teaching their classes. Balancing studies and teaching and life obligations is a challenge, but UM is lucky to have these dedicated instructors.
“[Teaching is] overwhelming, but in a good way,” Puc says.