Faculty Profile: Victoria Houser and Shauna Chung
Not only are Victoria Houser and Shauna Chung working toward their doctorates in Rhetorics, but they are co-teaching Clemson’s First Year Composition class while doing so. Victoria and Shauna won an award celebrating their demonstration of excellence in teaching first-year writing. Victoria and Shauna both won the Thomas E. Douglass Award for Excellence in Teaching. This award is presented to the graduate teaching assistants who best exemplify the high standards of teaching Prof. Douglass promoted and practiced throughout his tenure in the English Department.
Victoria and Shauna sat down with us to tell us a little about themselves and the process of team-teaching a course! They also explained why they chose to go to grad school after completing their undergraduate degrees at their respective universities.
Shauna attended Southern Adventist University in Tennessee where she double majored in Music and English, moving to Korea shortly after graduation to teach middle school English for a year. This further confirmed her passion for teaching English. Victoria attended Roberts Wesleyan College, a small liberal arts college in Rochester, New York, where she majored in English and Communication and fell in love with rhetoric and teaching.
What made you decide to go to grad school?
Shauna: I’ve aspired to be a teacher since I was 3 years old. It was (and still is) the dream “job.” After discovering a passion for English in high school and nurturing this interest in college, I decided that teaching English at the college level was something I wanted to do. This naturally led me to graduate school, where I found the field of Rhetoric and Composition and, in my masters program, became interested in multimodal writing and digital rhetoric. My mentors encouraged me to pursue a PhD and recommended Clemson. The rest is history!
Victoria: I came into my college with about a year of credits completed, and initially planned to major in Literature and graduate in three years. However, in order to finish my four-years of NCAA eligibility (I was on the Track team), I added a Communication major to meet the credit requirements. Long story short, I took a course on Classical and Modern Rhetoric, and it changed my life. I’m not sure how many people can say that Classical Rhetoric destroyed their plans for the future, but it did alter my career path in unforeseen ways. During my senior year, I applied to graduate programs in Rhetoric and Composition, and went straight from undergrad to Washington State University for my MA.
What is it like to be a Composition Teaching Assistant?
Shauna: I’ve often called my classroom a “happy place.” It’s 2.5 hours spent two days a week where I get to momentarily forget about the stress of grad school and completely geek out over composition and rhetoric instead. Being a writing teacher is fun.I have the incredible opportunity to work with students who bring so many talents and insights to the classroom and, as a result, help me re-see the content that I’m teaching. We explore writing through various lenses (e.g., technology, race, gender, language, genres) and produce in multiple modes (e.g., video and photo essays, graphics).
Victoria: Being a composition instructor is one of the best parts of the PhD life. I’ve always loved teaching, and First-Year Composition is my favorite course. Since it’s a smaller course, it’s a bit easier to build a learning space dedicated to community and the process of writing. There is an opportunity to engage with each student’s process and walk with them through the 15 weeks of their introduction to academic writing. Often, students see academic writing as an impenetrable object, and FYC becomes a hoop they have to jump through to get to other classes in their major. One of the best parts of teaching the class, though, is seeing that stereotype break down for them as they engage in the rhetorical situations of everyday life.
Could you tell us a little bit about the course you team-taught?
Shauna: From day one of teaching at Clemson, Victoria and I frequently discussed our individual pedagogical practices and our day-to-day in the classroom. One semester, we separately designed a suite of assignments centered around Clemson’s history and, after comparing notes, realized that we were after similar goals but incorporated different methods and approaches. I noticed that weaknesses in my assignments and lessons could be strengthened by what she offered, and she recognized the same of her class materials. So, we decided to join forces!
Victoria: The course really came out of a friendship and a shared passion for the community of composition classrooms. Through discussing our assignment prompts and comparing notes on what was happening in our sections, we saw a conversation emerge about methods of rhetorical listening and participatory culture building on each other. So, we thought, “why not try to merge these ideas in the structure of the classroom itself!” We pitched the idea, got a green light, and then set to work to build the prompts. As a result, we saw our teaching philosophies expand while also casting a wider net for the community of classrooms.
What was the experience of team-teaching like?
Shauna: Overall, team teaching has been a blast! Victoria and I have twice the amount of students than we normally would (a total of four sections instead of two), which provides an even richer and more diverse in-class experience and more opportunities to network students with each other. She and I each plan one lesson a week and teach it four times. At first, I feared this would be a redundant or monotonous experience, but it was the complete opposite! Each class brought something new to the table and worked through our lesson plans in distinct and productive ways. It also gave me the opportunity to really workshop ideas and see what did or did not resonate with students.
This experience wasn’t without its challenges, however. Victoria and I had to do a lot of negotiating since we’d be sharing not just our students but also our syllabi. We had to figure out what in our own courses and teaching philosophies was most important, what activities or lesson plans needed to be cut in favor of new approaches, and how to create consistency in our classrooms while also presenting two unique perspectives. Though we only planned one lesson a week, we had to continuously consult each other to ensure continuity, quality, and organization of our weekly objectives.
Victoria: It was a dream. I’ve never seen so much energy in the created on the first day of a class, and as we introduced the course to the students, I saw all the pieces of our plans kind of click into place. It was a lot of work to coordinate and lesson plan together throughout the semester, and we definitely had some strategic hang ups that were hard to work through. But what fueled the space was our collaborative spirit, and even in the hard stuff, we were on the same page. The students. Our conversations centered on ways to meet the student’s needs and offer them a space for creative, critical development in their writing processes. I’m a firm believer that teachers should model for their students the practices they ask their students to engage with. Collaboration is a big part of the FYC classroom, and working with Shauna this semester was a truly embodied model to give to our students. I was stretched a lot this semester, and in this process I was able to evaluate my teaching philosophy through new lenses. This class was one of the most rewarding teaching experiences I’ve had, and I hope that we can build a model for this that other teachers might use in the future.
Written By: Caroline Cavendish