The Campus Level Writing Program Administrator: A Way to Ensure College Success 🏛
After taking practicum in composition at the masters level, I am more convinced than ever that my campus should have a writing program administrator to help streamline assignments across disciplines and develop a common standard that reduces confusion and technical inconsistencies across departments. As a rule, professors write and publish their own materials using an individual set of norms and practices that work for them. But when students enter college classes, they are often not prepared for this next stage of vigorous academic writing. In one glaring example of malpractice, teachers in a previous social studies department taught high school students that topic sentences were little "baby thesis statements" and then insisted students write in generalities rather than prepare strong and assertive arguments because "it is more academic sounding."
My experience in one prominent charter school chain convinced me that even a writing program administrator situated at the top level of the organization in the central office, someone with a PHD in English with a focus and background in rhetoric and composition theory, would alleviate some of the inconsistencies in vertical alignment and help teachers prepare all students equally for college writing. But realistically a writing program administrator at the campus level would certainly be preferable, and this person could also teach a few English classes. Basically this would eliminate the low quality instruction that is happening now with teachers packing students down with poor and erroneous pedagogies and clobbering them with low-quality, computer-generated, drill-and-kill, grammar exercises.
During practicum as I struggled to write a college-level syllabus for my imaginary 1301 composition and rhetoric class, and as I struggled to internalize the basics of each composition pedagogy, I couldn't stop thinking about how badly writing program administrators were needed at the high school level. Now that almost anyone with any kind of academic background can certify to become an English teacher, even without any advanced coursework or quality professional development, writing program administrators are desperately needed. Helping incorporate writing into other subjects in a streamlined and cohesive way is essential in a STEM school.
The moments when I observe students floundering academically, and I see teachers struggling with a lack of content knowledge and writing experience, I think of the inequities that I witnessed in 2004 when I briefly worked as an adjunct teaching basic composition. Some of my students had been removed from their college level writing class because they had never been effectively taught how to take notes, write a thesis statement, organize a text, annotate, or read aloud. They literally tested their way into college without basic writing or moderate literacy skills. Angry and disillusioned, many of them felt used because they had been passed along because of some substantial talent at one sport or another. Now when I work with my students, I feel a sense of urgency. I know that if they fail to write adequately, they will never complete a four-year degree. Allowing students to move into the world of academia without providing them with solid writing experience is unconscionable. It is my hope that future high schools will begin to align goals and standards across disciplines and hire professional writing program administrators.