Reflection on My Semester in the Student Writing Center
This semester in the Student Writing Center has seen me grow tremendously as a mentor, as a student, and as a writer. Over the last few months, I have been privileged to work with a diverse array of writers whose ideas and perspectives have not only brought me out of my cognitive sphere, but also have allowed me to survey it from an outside perch. In this writing, I will tell of this journey out of seclusion and into the wide world of writing.
In telling of this journey, I first want to establish a context for the “place” at which I stood at the beginning of the semester by providing a brief history of my experience with writing…
For the majority of my life, writing has been associated with one constant: solitude. From fifth grade through my senior year of high school, I was homeschooled, comprising the entirety of the student body for my grade; I had relatively few interactions with academic peers, and essentially always completed work—writing included—by myself. While this solitude did have its benefits, such as allowing me space for reflection and thus an acute understanding of the way I think about and approach writing, it instilled in me a concept of writing as an inherently hermitic activity, and, in a sense, sealed me away from the influence of others. Up through my first year-and-a-half of college, I conceptualized writing in this manner, becoming fairly proficient in my strengths and knowledge but also rather uninterested in the perceptions of others and unaware of my weaknesses—I admittedly grew somewhat arrogant, and it is in this state of mind that I initially set out on my journey by walking into English 1810.
This course was unlike any I’d been in prior in the sense that it was both small and largely discussion-oriented. Immediately, I realized that my comfort zone and level of experience in this area were going to be challenged throughout the course. As I listened to the ideas of my peers and the eloquence with which they expressed these, I felt somewhat intimidated, my assuredness in the completeness of my abilities beginning to falter. For a brief period, the pace of my trek slowed considerably; I began to retreat into my mind, but was met with doubt rather than assurance. It was then that I realized that I did not know everything, and, consequently, it was then that I became intentional in my journey, walking determinedly forward.
This turned out to be the first of many growing experiences I would have in the course, serving as a precursor to what would soon follow—working with writers one-to-one.
In the weeks following my commitment to this journey, I learned two integral principles: using a nondirective approach and “respect[ing] the writer”; these would serve as my guidelines along the way, and would provide the means by which my own learning was made possible. By asking myself questions such as “What does it mean to respect the writer” and “How do I respect the writer,” I began to think of how I wanted to be respected as a writer, and I began to ask myself the same questions about my own writing that I was taught to ask the writers with whom I worked—“Why did you do this?” “What do you want your audience to take away.” With the onset of this new, better introspection, I felt ready to begin my work.
My first experience in-person came shortly after, when I observed five sessions between fellow tutors and students. These observations were quite helpful to me, as they allowed me to see different concepts and techniques in action. I was able to see what seemed useful to students and what could work for me. Moreover, talking with the tutors, I found that they noticed things in the session that I missed completely and that I noticed things they missed; this was immensely rewarding, as my confidence and my knowledge were both greatly enhanced through this exchange.
After I had observed these sessions, the time quickly came for me to begin my own tutoring. In all honesty, this was still intimidating despite all of the education and practice that I had prior. However, as I introduced myself to the student and asked what I could help her with, I had a significant revelation: I was no longer alone on my journey. For these thirty minutes, the student was walking with me. We were able to discuss where she had been, where she was at the time, and where she was going, and I was able to help her by suggesting a route. Meanwhile, I found myself impressed with her tenacity (she came to Writing Center a full two weeks before her assignment was due), and observing how quickly she progressed in her writing stirred a desire within me to try the same thing, to try developing an assignment long before its due date rather than waiting until just days prior. As the session ended and she walked away satisfied, I felt both a surge of confidence and satisfaction, knowing that she had learned something from me and that I had learned something from her. My perception of writing, of people, and of the world around me was greatly enriched by this.
And since that point, each session has added to and enriched my perspective. My meetings with students have led me to places as diverse as a village in turmoil during the Rwandan Genocide to an evergreen forest in the thick of winter. Moreover, hearing about students’ varying cultures, ideas, and language usage has forced me to think more about my own culture, my own ideas, and my own language use in order to mentor them in their English writing. I have not only been able to pass through the borders of my mind and my culture, but I have come far enough that I can now look back on them, examine them, and transcend them, making me a more well-rounded writer and better person overall. It is my hope and sincere belief that I have provided such enrichment to the writers—the people, not the texts—that may also go further in their endeavors in writing and their exploration of the world around them.