Most WC writings use many different names for those of us who work in the writing centers, working with students with various writing abilities, a multitude of writing difficulties, and at any stage of the writing process. Some say it doesn’t matter what we our called, but I disagree. What we are called or call ourselves will have an influence on what is expected of us and the session that each student is involved in.
While doing the reading for class, it occurred to me that there is a difference between tutoring and consulting, between a tutor and a consultant. Knowing these differences can help us in our interactions with the students. And these differences can affect how the student reacts and responds when we are trying to help them.
Let’s look at the word tutor first. By definition, tutoring is to teach or instruct especially privately. Another word that can be used in defining what a tutor does is the word guide. A tutor gives guidance. All of these give the implication that it is a process, one that happens over time. Consistent, regularly, and scheduled also come to mind. All of this meaning that tutoring is more than just one session of meeting with someone. It is where someone is lacking in knowledge in a certain area, and needs to be instructed and given the information that they do not have to become efficient in the that subject. So in this case, a tutor is someone who is an expert, a teacher, someone who can instruct a person for a duration of time as in which the individual will be apt in their knowledge.
Here is a good definition of consult, “…to seek from a presumably qualified person or source advice, opinion.” A consultant is the one who gives expert or professional advice. And a consultation is a conference at which advice is given or views are exchanged. All of this gives the impression of a limited time frame. It also gives the collaborative feel that is a main theme in academic writing of what is done in the writing center. It also does not give the authoritative sense that tutor implies, where the instructor is superior to the person they are helping. It is mentioned over and over that the majority of students have fears coming into the WC. If it was expressed that they were coming in to ‘consult’ about their papers and writing process, would this not help alleviate these fears? Would this not insure that collaborative activities would be more likely to happen?
I am not ignoring that there is a need for tutoring, and that it can be done at the WC. But what if we gave the students this choice? If they felt that they just needed support for one paper at different stages, or in one specific area, then they could come in and get advice on that part. But if there was strong indication that they were lacking in knowledge of basic skills needed to be writing at a standard level, then tutoring would be offered on a regular basis with one certain person. So both services are offered separately, giving both the consultant and tutor a clear idea of the basic expectations of each session.
So basically, in the WC we are doing both tutoring and consulting. It just seems that if it were specified which one was needed and which one we were attempting, it would be better for all involved. Clarity is always a good thing, especially when it comes to writing, right?