I think it’s funny how often we say “us/we (as consultants)” or “me (as a consultant)” in writing about writing center work.
Anyways, I (as a consultant) have discovered something that we (as consultants) may not focus on in our routine of working with writers. As I continue to work with students from all over the University, I feel as though the identity of the actual consultant becomes more and more blurred. Am I consulting or is the student consulting? Of course, in traditional terms, I am the consultant. I am the professional who studied in a theory course to sit with a student and…well…consult. But, to risk sounding cliché, what defines a consultant? Is it the theory course? The good looks? The awesome nametag?
According to the dictionary (did you ever notice that it is always “the dictionary,” and never “a dictionary?” I just realized that. I digress…) a consultant is considered a professional offering expert advice. I think the word “advice” is why we chose to call ourselves consultants—we give advice; we do not tutor (which a dictionary defines as the action of teaching). Despite dictionary definitions, I have come to realize that students consult with me just as much as I consult with them. Maybe the student gives advice to me inadvertently: I learn from my actions with the student during our consultation; the way that students respond to my methods has done much to mold my personal pedagogy. Or maybe the student gives me advice intentionally: I am referring to those times when we pronounce things embarrassingly wrong and the student corrects us; or maybe the student tells us about some of the facts in his or her paper that we never knew.
What I have gained from my consulting experiences is that the knowledge I hold and give is only a small part of human knowledge and advice being held and given. Each time I sit with a writer, discuss things, give advice, and take advice I learn that we (as consultants) are only part of the process of sharing, gaining, giving, and receiving. What defines the consultant? In the Center, it is, of course, those with impeccably good looks, awesome nametags, and boundless amounts of knowledge in writing center theory. But what happens when we need advice or help on math or science and end up getting it from the student with the literature paper that had a question on flow and organization yesterday? The roles reverse, just as they occasionally do in our consultations.