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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

"I want you to write this paper alone."

Something that I've never witnessed before took place not more than two feet from me. A student came in and told their tutor (not me, obviously) that she cancelled her appointment because her professor told her that she could not work on her paper with anyone, including the Writing Center. Are we not here to help?

This begs the question, do we ignore the professor and assist anyway? I say we do but I find it disheartening to know there may be a professor at your University that discourages students seeking help. We are not here as answer books but as collaborators. We collaborate everyday with different people and every student that we encounter is looking for some kind of guidance. I also can't help but wonder what might happen to this student after their paper is turned in and by some unfortunate circumstance the Professor becomes aware of her sessions with us. Is it fair to deny a student this service that the University pays us for? Or is it unfair of the student to go against explicit instructions by the Professor? I've always wanted to do things when people tell me not to anyway so I would probably go against them but when it comes to grades, one is always a little cautious.

Have any of you faced this kind of unappreciation from your University?

Monday, January 28, 2013

Changing Perceptions of Consultations – Challenge or Opportunity?


A group from the Texas A&M University Writing Center presented research at the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing back in early November entitled “Exploring Professional and Personal Benefits of Tutor Identity.” Following our Chicago group’s study concerning tutor identity and how difficult consultants mold a tutor both in the present and his/her future professional endeavors, I’ve thought a bit more about the way my perceptions of a “difficult consultation” have changed.

During our focus group, we asked our colleagues specifically how their most memorably difficult consultations have helped shape their tutor and/or personal identity. Our respondents, it turns out, have learned all kinds of virtues through their tutoring – patience, the value of saying “no,” compassion, etc. I realized after this discussion with my coworkers that I don’t see difficult consultations the same way I did a year and a half ago when I first started tutoring.

Then, I fully expected every session with an international student to be taxing and frustrating, and I assumed that sessions with native English speakers would be a cakewalk. I had a similar attitude about online submissions. There is no doubt that in-person sessions with nonnative speakers are likely to present unique challenges that you wouldn’t otherwise experience – simple communication barriers due to the language disconnect, misinterpretations of facial expressions and nonverbal behavior (for both tutor and student), and perhaps the fact that the student will walk away having learned nothing substantial because of these potential obstacles.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. I can (and should) walk into a session with an international student hoping for the best. The truth is, my most rewarding consultations have been with nonnative speakers. In order to make them productive for both parties, we, the consultants, must try to seek common ground with the student. I must find a way to encourage the student and assert his ability so that the student knows he is in good hands. Often, international students walk in to sessions with low morale and will often say, “This isn’t going to be good” or “I’m terrible at writing and/or grammar.” When I hear these things, I make it my goal to send the student off smiling and confident 45 minutes later.

Here’s an example of how this method worked with my DATA student (a doctoral candidate going through our dissertation and thesis program): the first day we met, he was relatively standoffish. He asked me what year I was in school and what I was studying. (I think he wanted me to be a graduate student studying English, or something.) But, I’m neither, so he seemed concerned. I accepted this challenge. Throughout our ten sessions, I identified opportunities with this student to assert my knowledge in a subtle way and to find common ground with him. When he’s getting the computer booted up, we talk politics, what’s going on that weekend, the weather, etc. (He even asked me to be his Facebook friend!) My DATA student taught me that half of every good consultation is building rapport (and if you can, relationships). In turn, you build trust.

This trust-building exercise, and thus, its role in establishing our credibility as tutors, is absolutely imperative for us to implement. We are in the business of helping and teaching, and if we are not fostering a positive, relationally-motivated learning environment, then what are we really doing?

All of us should take the time to assess how we respond to our most challenging sessions, no matter how long we’ve been tutoring. The best thing we can do for ourselves and our students is humbly accept that no, we never “arrive” as tutors, and there is always something new to learn. Here’s to taking the bad with the good in consulting – and to viewing tricky sessions as another chance to learn.  

Thursday, January 24, 2013

"That's a weird sentence"

I'm constantly judging people when they write things. I can't help it. I try to be nice about it but to establish a rapport with people I find that my humor wins them over faster than me putting up pretenses and being fake. So really, when you think about it, I may be here to help people but I will first mildly insult your paper. It's cool though. That's when you know I like you. Don't worry about it. So are we here to court the student into thinking that they're awesome or do we treat them as friends and tell them how it is straight up? I've taken the sarcastic nudge route into telling my tutees what's wrong with their papers and how they could go about fixing it.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Paranoid?

Do any of you tell your professors (if they don't already know) that you work in a Writing Center? I worry all the time about one of my professors that might not know me as well as other ones, especially in my small University, suggesting that I go to the WRC for help on my papers. Am I supposed to just say ok, I'll go and that's it? It's never happened, and being in my last semester, probably won't but it's crossed my mind more than once. I love this job and I love being able to help people discover how to poignantly and succinctly put down their ideas and thoughts but I often fear my own might get jumbled from my mind to the paper. I'm probably paranoid about it but it's happened before. (A story I've heard around the water cooler) Just food for thought I guess.