ToW 2020: Becoming Advocates, Joining Voices, Continuing Advocacy

Many teachers, of writing and other subjects, in Michigan and beyond, have had a tough time the last few years. Our budgets, never large, were shrunk and cut and never made whole again. Though we know that writing is a complex activity situated in ever-evolving ecosystems, the assessment mandates placed upon us urge us to simplistic measurements and quick analysis. We have said goodbye to many colleagues who retired or moved or left for other industries, but we haven’t said nearly as many hellos to new colleagues. Preventable, systemic violence has taken too many students’ lives and caused deep fear and grief and anger among those of us left mourning. Our digital technologies, once filled with utopian possibilities, have become ugly tools of scenes from dystopian nightmares. The CCCC’s statement on Student’s Right to Their Own Language has turned 30, but linguistic racism continues to haunt our classrooms and our civic discourse.

And what have we done?

As a profession, we teachers have, amazingly, not lost hope. We have become, or have more strongly committed to our roles as, advocates for our students and our colleagues and our profession and its place in our world. We have been resilient and persistent. We have not backed down from these wicked problems when we encounter them in our classrooms, in our hallways, on our campuses, and in our communities. We don’t have all of the solutions, not yet, but we are working and grinding and writing and pushing through these problems. Each day, we know them better. And we are calling out: for attention to be paid to the problems, for help and resources to combat the problems, for the change we want to see in our corners of the world.

“Advocate”, as a noun and a verb, is one of the words that was borrowed into English from Latin and then went through some transformation. In the original Latin, the noun “advocatus” is about standing up with and for friends, especially within the legal system. The verb “advoco” is about using your voice both to call to others and to respond to other’s calls. The words express the dynamics of relationships at critical moments, the responsibilities we owe to each other in our relationships, and the opportunities we encounter to support each other through our relationships. Advocacy is about being at someone’s side during tough times. It’s also about using your voice, about speaking in defense or on behalf of someone, about representing the person you know and the relationship you value.

Advocacy is about joining your voice to others to amplify a message .   As writing faculty, we often must advocate for a range of issues inside and outside of the classroom. We advocate for things like more classroom resources, better working conditions for the contingent faculty that staff general education writing courses, protection of students’ language practices, meaningful assessment programs that help improve student learning, support for reaching students increasingly affected by systemic violence in their communities, and a range of other issues and concerns. For the 2020 Teaching of Writing Conference, we invite you to join us in conversation about how you have been engaging with advocacy as a teacher of writing in your institution, in your geographic, political, social, or professional communities, in your classrooms, or in other spaces and places.

  • What are the messages you are committed to amplifying? Are these new, or have you been an advocate on some topic for some time?
  • What have been your successes?
  • What have been your challenges?
  • How does the work of the writing classroom help students learn to advocate for themselves in the classroom? In the larger institution?
  • How have students’ writing projects highlighted the ways students engage in advocating for others through research or community engagement?
  • How has your teaching life made space over time for particular attention to advocacy work? How has this work, in turn, impacted your teaching?
  • What administrative advocacy lifelines do we see functioning (or potentially functioning) to help new teachers develop classroom practice and confidence?
  • What topics need more advocates and advocacy in your local community or in the professional community we share?
  • Who are you speaking on behalf of, and who are you addressing—In your community, at your campus, in your unit?
  • How do we care for ourselves and our colleagues while we do this work? How do we sustain our energy and momentum?
  • What wisdom do you have to share with others advocating on similar topics? What is the story behind how you became trusted to speak on that topic or on behalf of that group?
  • How do we bring all voices into conversation in the work of teaching in our programs, departments, schools?

Proposals for the 2020 Teaching of Writing Conference are due by January 10, 2020. The conference will take place at Wayne State University on Feb. 1, 2020. We welcome proposals for either individual or panel presentations. Sessions will be 60-minutes long and should be planned to allow at least 20 minutes of Q&A and conversation. Proposals should include a title, a session description of 200 words or fewer, and identification of any technology or accessibility needs. Click here to open the proposal form. If you have any questions about the proposal process or the conference itself, please contact the Conference Planning Committee chair, Ruth Boeder, at ee2316(at)