Sunday, July 3, 2011

Summer Boot Camp!

While most incoming MFA students this year are busy finishing up their jobs, spending time with old friends, and enjoying their summers, I’ve spent the last week in boot camp.

Most other programs either have some teacher training during orientation or train students during their first semester. But Florida State University is one of the few schools, if not the only, that has an extended summer training session for TAs, affectionately known as boot camp.

When I first found out that I would have to leave my job earlier than anticipated and not have any time off between work and school I wasn’t too happy. But the closer and closer I got to starting my training session the more I realized how relieved I was to be getting these 6 weeks of training before being tossed into a Freshman Comp class of my own.

FSU’s boot camp is designed for all English Graduate students with TAships who have less than 1 full year of college teaching experience. This year’s crew includes 30 incoming Masters and PhD students in Literature, Rhetoric and Composition, and Creative Writing: a diverse, intelligent, and quirky bunch.

We’re only a week in, but already things have been very busy. Between two pedagogy classes (one on general theory and one more specific to the classes we’ll be teaching) and an internship in a summer term freshmen comp class, there is a lot of reading, a lot of assignments, and a lot of class time. But there are also been parties, lunches, and faculty readings to attend.

It’s proving to be a really great transition period for me. Getting used to homework and managing my own time without traditional office hours has been a challenge (Homework or nap? Nap or homework?) But I’m glad I’m having a chance to get back into the swing of things now before the semester starts. Another perk has been the assigned reading of the books we’ll be using in the fall. Having lesson plans and readings as a priority now will inevitably make fall term much easier. And though I’m still nervous about teaching, I at least feel like I’ll have the right support, particularly all the current TA’s we’ve been meeting with and learning from.

At FSU all first year TAs teach First Year Composition. We have the option of picking one of several “strands” which come with syllabus outlines and assignment suggestions. The strand system is a great one for first year teachers. It gives us enough of a built in structure to make sure that there is consistency across freshmen comp. But it also gives us a lot of flexibility in picking a strand that works for us and in adapting it in ways that allow us to develop and compliment our own teaching style and interests. I already have my eye on a strand with a creative writing emphasis. We also have the option of designing our own strands and special topics to teach after our first year.

It’s been a whirlwind of a week so far. But despite my struggle to get used to having homework again, boot camp has been a lot more fun than its name implies.


  1. Eeek! I am so jealous of your six week boot camp! Thank you for sharing the process. What part of teaching do you/did you feel least prepared for and how is the 6 weeks helping?

  2. I think going in I was the most worried about finding a way to tie everything together in a course. I knew I could figure out a way to teach lesson to lesson or even section to section. But finding a way to pull it all together so it all worked together and made sense (bigger picture and all) really overwhelmed me. A lot of the general theory has helped me think about how I think writing should be taught has already helped. And by the time I finish boot camp, I'll have completed my lesson plans, syllabus, a teaching statement, and a portfolio of all sorts of readings and writings that I can hopefully pull together a course that has a long term theme and ties together.

  3. How cool that you get to do bootcamp! That's a waaaaay better method than just throwing students into a teaching load. Sounds like a good idea that more schools should adopt!

    The only downside I can see is that all the TAs get time to hang out without the non TAs, which isn't all that good for mixing the community up a bit. It's helpful, but being a non-TA my first year made me feel a bit outside the TAs who all knew each other already. There's still a pretty clear divide.

  4. Jeez, six weeks. That sounds very challenging but worth the effort. Just think: Although nervous that first week, you will also feel prepared, competent, and supported. All that prep time, as well, will probably allow you to focus a bit more on your own course work and writing. Keep us posted about other aspects of FSU's CW program--that is, if time permits.

  5. I remember when you first found out you needed to move early, and didn't think you could make it work. I'm glad you did, and I'm happy for you. Congrats and good luck!


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