Launching Curricular Reform in First-Year Composition: Navigating the Terrain between Buy-in and Burnout

Andrea Deacon


Recently, I was attempting to describe my duties as a first-year composition director (often referred to as a WPA, or writing program administrator) to a colleague in another department. In order to describe the diverse, varied—and often chaotic—nature of my work, I was trying to think of apt metaphors which would best capture my experience. It struck me that many of the metaphors I kept coming back to had to do with fire. For example, WPAs often attempt to “light fires” under instructors to encourage them to revise or improve their pedagogy and classroom performance. Equally, WPAs are often asked to put out fires, like when an upset student comes to us to complain about an instructor, or a campus administrator tells us we need to (often immediately) develop a plan to increase the pass rate in our first-year courses. Ultimately, at the risk of stretching this metaphor too far, all of this playing with fire can leave a WPA burning the candle at both ends. This potential “burnout” too often prevents otherwise talented WPAs from enjoying their work and creating meaningful change in the composition programs they’re charged to develop and oversee.


Writing Program Administration

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