Dispatches | September 07, 2005

[By Faith Kurtyka]

My name is Faith Kurtyka and I like teaching comp.

To anyone who has ever been a graduate student in English, the above statement may come as a shock. The freshman composition class is the dungeon of teaching—a dark and lonely place where students toil at the menial labor of writing while the creative writers and literature enthusiasts bask in the sunshine of transcendental language and “ideas.”

For me, though, comp has been a welcome port in the storm of graduate school. It doesn’t make me feel guilty about not knowing what modernism is. It doesn’t berate me for reading trashy celebrity magazines instead of great literature, because it believes that everything is an argument. I like the humility of comp, and although sometimes I wish it would assert itself a little more in the face of its big brothers Literature and Creative Writing, I like that it’s conscious of its value to the university. I especially like that the newness of the rhetoric/composition field makes me feel like I can have a voice in its critical discussion.

Most importantly, I have found that composition aligns with my teaching ideals. Defending my love of writing by writing about it always reminds me of the Mitch Hedberg joke, “I’m against picketing, but I don’t know how to show it.” But teaching presents a non-self-referential way to show how and why I love writing. I like that teaching is the “business” of composition as opposed to what you’re doing while your working on your book, because I think that life’s too short to have just a “day job.” I like that a traditional lecture format doesn’t work in comp classes. I like teaching people who don’t have the ego or the aesthetic of writers, and I like teaching people who are interested in different things than I am.

So because I still get strange looks when I tell people that I like to teach thesis sentences, I hope that as composition gains professional respectability as a discipline in the humanities, it will also emerge out of the dungeon and into the light as a legitimate way for legitimate writers to love writing.