Over the past couple of decades, a small number of compositionists have argued that disciplinary TAs are in fact teachers of writing and should be involved in writing across the curriculum (WAC) efforts and conversations. Compositionists have easily translated disciplinary teaching assistants’ (TAs’) responsibilities as those of a writing instructor and have confidently assigned TAs with the pedagogical identity of a writing teacher. Yet do TAs in the disciplines perceive themselves in the same manner? There is no existing scholarship that provides insight into how disciplinary TAs perceive and define their pedagogical responsibilities and identities, and the factors involved in these perceptions and definitions. The qualitative research I present in this essay seeks to fill this gap in scholarship, providing an opportunity for us to listen to and learn from disciplinary TAs. Listening to disciplinary TAs experiences, I argue, is important when considering their role in local and national writing across the curriculum (WAC) efforts and the development of WAC TA training or other professional development programs that incorporate writing instruction.

My research, which is compromised of interviews, offers a glimpse into the minds and pedagogical lives of a dozen disciplinary TAs from a Northeastern doctoral-granting university that expresses a strong commitment to training graduate instructors for their teaching responsibilities. My research reveals a strong connection between embracing or rejecting the pedagogical identity of a writing instructor, and pedagogical training and experience in the teaching of writing. More specifically, my findings reveal that TAs’ perceptions about their responsibilities related to writing instruction are dependent on the amount of training they have received and their pedagogical experience. None of the TAs in this study have had formal training in writing instruction at the university level, but many have prior to graduate school. Those who have had professional development and ample teaching experience are more inclined to perceive themselves as writing instructors and feel responsible for teaching writing than those who have not. The interviews also reveal that disciplinary TAs—both those who perceive themselves as teachers of writing and those who do not, and by extension, undergraduate students, are negatively affected by the absence of formal training in writing instruction at the university level. The consequences include ineffective assessment practices and insufficient instruction in research-based writing, which equates to irresponsible teaching.

The TA research participants in this case study are not representative of TAs at all institutions, yet the knowledge gained from them provides helpful insight for higher education. The research findings reveal the importance of providing disciplinary TAs with professional development for writing instruction in either WAC TA training programs or other kinds of programs. Professional development is needed to help TAs develop their pedagogical identity as teachers of writing and more fully understand the responsibilities that writing instruction in the disciplines demands, which is important for institutions with or without a WAC program. Further, this research strengthens the claim that WAC TA professional development is both essential and important for working toward achieving WAC goals in the future, and most importantly, for helping undergraduate students develop strong writing habits and practices.