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First Semester

First Semester

Graduate Students, Teaching Writing, and the Challenge of Middle Ground

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Jessica Restaino


Paperback (Other formats: E-book)
168 pages, 5.5 x 8.5

Studies in Writing and Rhetoric


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About the Book

Jessica Restaino offers a snapshot of the first semester experiences of graduate student writing teachers as they navigate predetermined course syllabi and materials, the pressures of grading, the influences of foundational scholarship, and their own classroom authority. With rich qualitative data gathered from course observations, interviews, and correspondence, Restaino traces four graduate students’ first experiences as teachers at a large, public university. Yet the circumstances and situations she relates will ring familiar at widely varying institutions.

First Semester: Graduate Students, Teaching Writing, and the Challenge of Middle Ground presents a fresh and challenging theoretical approach to understanding and improving the preparation of graduate students for the writing classroom. Restaino uses a three-part theoretical construct—labor, action, and work, as defined in Hannah Arendt’s work of political philosophy, The Human Condition—as a lens for reading graduate students’ struggles to balance their new responsibilities as teachers with their concurrent roles as students. Arendt’s concepts serve as access points for analysis, raising important questions about graduate student writing teachers’ first classrooms and uncovering opportunities for improved support and preparation by university writing programs.


Jessica Restaino is Assistant Professor of English and Associate Director of English education at Montclair State University. 


“In this important study, Jessica Restaino uses Hannah Arendt’s theoretical model of labor, action, and work to investigate the experiences of four graduate students teaching their first writing classes at a large state university. Her portraits of these participants’ struggles as they negotiate the challenges they face as both teachers and graduate students raise insightful, thought-provoking questions not only about the way writing program administrators train and mentor new teachers but also about how writing is taught, researched, and theorized.  First Semester is a model of ethnographic analysis at its best.”—Lisa Ede, professor of English, Oregon State University

“Teaching assistants juggle a punishing workload for their own classes, as well as the workload of the demanding, grade-obsessed, and sometimes threatening undergraduates that they are expected to teach.  It is a balancing act of conflicting identities, as they play the role of both educator and student.  As Restaino trails four new graduate student teachers in their first weeks of classroom teaching, she employs Arendt to think through new teachers’ workplace self-fashioning. First Semester is a great place to start asking ourselves tough questions about how we turn students into faculty.”—Marc Bousquet, author of How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation

"This study will profoundly shape the way I think about my work with graduate teaching assistants and with the long-term contract faculty who staff the writing program I direct."-Shirley K. Rose, Professor and Writing Programs Director, Arizona State University