584: Weekly Position Paper #9: The Ethos of GTAs: Credibility Appeals vs. Pedagogical Openness

Ethos is a term that Krista Ratcliffe employs in Rhetorical Listening both in order to understand how whiteness functions in our society and in order to help teachers understand how they can plan for a course that prepares students to listen rhetorically. In order to maintain stasis, whiteness often reduces ethos to a rugged-individualist ethical appeal, rather than an expanded concept of ethos that involves “a shared enterprise among members of the community” (124, qting. Nedra Reynolds). Ethos, then, has to do with the convergences of individuals, cultures, bodies, and tropes (126). Likewise, the ethos that Ratcliffe suggests a teacher develops must be contingent upon personal style, students’ individual needs, the course, the institution, an even events in a teacher’s life. Ratcliffe identifies “two important components: What can I perform, and what helps students learn?” (145).

It seems that Ratcliffe’s conceptualization of a teacher’s ethos is useful for graduate teaching assistants to consider. The reason I bring this up is because, with the stress of teaching for the first time, GTAs are often encouraged to think about their teaching ethos mostly in regards to their performance, rather than in regards to promoting student learning. New GTAs are often concerned about dress, titles, appearing knowledgeable, and a myriad of other things that can build their ethos in the classroom. These are all understandable and important concerns that need to be thought through. However, I wonder if the stress on these concerns primarily, at the expense of other aspects of ethos, might rely on the authorial agency that Ratcliffe argues is “[put] on a pedestal” above readerly agency, discursive agency, and cultural agency (131). These “other aspects” of ethos I mention include, but aren’t limited to, fostering an openness to being wrong and to new ideas, and the potentials for greater “readerly agency” and “authorial agency” in our students. An example of the problem of this focus on individual ethos is a GTA claiming he is older and has more experience than he actually does, because of his concern that his credibility will be harmed if he admits to being a 21-year-old recent graduate of college.

I’d like to resist a cultural logic of blame here and instead employ Ratcliffe’s tactic of eavesdropping, which she describes as “purposely positioning oneself on the edge of one’s knowing so as to overhear and learn from others and […] from oneself” (105). I wonder if we position ourselves on the outside of GTA training to listen to GTAs and professors, what would we hear? I wonder what we would understand and what cultural logics would emerge when we analyzed claims.

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One Response to 584: Weekly Position Paper #9: The Ethos of GTAs: Credibility Appeals vs. Pedagogical Openness

  1. sara jameson says:


    This is very thoughtful, especially with your experience here at OSU, with our new cohort going through the ethos building experience right now, and of course thinking back to our paper for 4C’s. I don’ t know if any of our GTA’s claim to be older. That hadn’t occurred to me. But you are right that many people feel very uncomfortable being open to being wrong – especially being wrong in public. Or to changing one’s mind – especially in public.

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