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Thursday, November 21, 2013

How does that make you feel?


I recently attended the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing, NCPTW.  Members of my Writing Center Studies class were presenting on high school and university writing center collaborations. When it came our time to present on Saturday morning, I was nervous because I did not know what to expect.  I had never attended a conference, nor had I presented in front of professionals.  Thankfully, our presentation went well.  Because we presented at 7:45am, I had the rest of the day to attend presentations.  I attended five sessions, but there was one in particular that stood out to me, Negative Emotion in the Writing Center: Writer Perception and Tutor perception.  This session focused on the emotional concerns students have with coming to the writing center, during their scheduled appointments, and when leaving the writing center.  It also focused on achievement emotion and how that related to the actual activity: writing the paper.  The presenters stated that “Achievement outcome emotions are either anticipatory-associated with the expected outcome, before it happens, or retrospective-associated with the outcome after it has happened.”      

                I liked this session in particular because we were able to discuss in small groups the emotions we observe and underlying issues our students may be having.  We discussed the research and how it showed that the number one emotion associated with achievement was anxiety.  When discussing with the group, I was able to pinpoint specific students in my mind that exemplified those emotions.  In our writing center, we are embedded tutors and meet with the same students for 14 weeks so I am familiar with the students and their progress.  I know what makes them anxious or angry during their sessions.  I ask them to come to the writing center ready to work with questions to ask.  The only time I am presented with a student that is anxious is usually when they don’t understand the expectations of the professor or the directions of the paper itself.  This is where it becomes beneficial to be an embedded tutor.  Because I attend class once a week, I hear the directions and expectations from the professor.  I take detailed notes during class so I am able to supply the student with that information in a session.  I feel I am a valuable resource that is provided by the university to lessen that anxiety when it comes to writing.  That’s why I can’t help but wonder, why do some students not come to sessions?

                Although I have attempted to explain what I do as a writing fellow several times, there are still some students that just don’t understand my role.  The students that choose to meet every week understand that I can be used as a valuable resource.  When they attend sessions and come prepared, they will leave with something accomplished.  On the other hand, there are those students who feel like they don’t need me.  Those who choose not to meet or rarely meet usually exemplify anger and anxiety toward writing so associate that with the writing center.  When I first started the program, I heard things like “I don’t understand why I have to be here,” or “I know how to write, I don’t need your help.”  These students were not directly mad at me but mad at the assignment and I was the only person there to listen.  Students were angry because of the paper guidelines or lack thereof.  Students don’t like strict guidelines but at the same time they often don’t like open ended prompts.  In every situation I think it is up to the tutor to help eliminate the negative emotions the student is feeling.  There is a strategy for each student; you just have to find what works.  At the end of each session I always ask my students, “Do you feel better than you did coming into the session?”  I usually get a positive response and when that happens, I have done my job.  

Comedy in the field of tutoring part 2

There are a few weeks left of school and Alex gave me the idea to put a post about humor in tutoring writing students. This is mainly a mixture of thoughts that caused me to chuckle, smile, or consider how helpful it can be to laugh in our field. Comedy can be an incredible tool when working with students of all types (except stuck up). I use small jokes all the time in my work and there are so many hidden benefits to it.

 (I did not fully reread this so I hope it is understandable.)

For this section I thought it would be humorous to explain my observations while tutoring. This isn't intended to help but I hope they give a smile to experienced tutors. This is not meant to offend but merely joke around. If I do offend you I apologize. I love my position as a tutor, I've learned so many things in this field, but I think if I'm to use humor in my line of work, I should be able to laugh at myself as well. 

1) If I have to endure 1,000 words..

Have you ever been in this situation? You begin a session, take down all the information, then you feel the best approach is for the student to read some of their work. Then something comes to mind, "What's that smell?" You secretly cup your mouth and sniff. Nope, that's fine. You look around but nothing is out of the familiar. Then it finally hits you like an invisible brick wall and you think,  "The one day I should have brought some breath mints." I've worked with students that I've swore did not know what toothpaste was. I could literally taste what they've eaten for breakfast. What is worse is that you can't really say anything. You just smile and fight back your lurching stomach. I've been tempted to ask, "So.. how was that rancid road-kill alamode?" Of course I don't because I'm too nice/polite. Two weeks ago I had one that was so ripe and pungent that I had to use Kleenex to hide my watering eyes. 

2) S/He who knows all.

I encourage students to learn all they can to have the most successful future possible. We as tutors help student's receive their future, they come in asking for more knowledge or understanding and we gladly appease this hunger, or to the best of our ability. Then there's THAT student. An intelligent being that clearly knows better than you. I've only encountered three or four of these creatures in my short tutoring history, and according to these few, the set guidelines should be considered:

-You should question my position as a tutor, for you may not be qualified.
-I don't need to know how to be a tutor, they will tell you how to do it.
-Their work is clearly above my expectations and I should tell you how you're such a great writer.
-Grammar is the only thing needed of viewing. You should 'only' look for this and or what I require.
-You should listen and follow their intellect since they clearly are far superior.
At the time of receiving similar demands I was completely baffled, I was even close to asking, "Why did you even come here?"  Usually it's a requirement but sometimes I wonder if it's just to receive extra praise.  If you have not seen this wild species of students be warned, and be ready. 

3. No.  This is a service, not a  "Serve-Us."
This one should be self explanatory however I personally am only able to catch it after 10-15 minutes have passed.  Students may think of the writing center as a service the college provides to DO their papers. Were tutors, not a machine you can slide your assignment through to be fixed.   "Yeah can I like... have this back by  Monday, five page essay worth 100 points.. Think I nailed it but you know, do your thing.  Kay thanks!"  Tutors are peer helpers, we help the students help themselves. Personally I find it amusing when a student doesn't like that we do this, how we do not do the work for them.  There are things I'd LIKE to say but I can't like, "Do your own homework! It's not mine! Would you like to trade? I've got several pages of coding to do. Have fun with that."   Of course this would be silly, they're probably go trade that off with someone else, never to be seen again. 

In a way it feels just like this; The student will sit down next to you and give all their information. You turn and the page slides in front of you.  You get a blank stare. You can glare back and say, "we don't do this." . It however doesn't seem to have touched them at all, soon enough you're getting poked with a pencil. "Cmon... Write...work...Do my essay."      >_>

In reality I've had similar situations, sadly not as cartoon-y. I've had a student come in and ask for a peer review. Sounds normal right? I got half way though and started asking questions. The answer, "I don't know" is kind of a red flag. So I asked more and wouldn't you know it. It was not even her essay!! Her assignment was to peer review the owner of this paper. If I haven't been asking questions I would have done it myself.  I asked her about it and it turns out she that this was my job.  To do what she asked.  For what time remained I scraped my small note page. (She wanted me to write on the essay itself.) Then I walked her though how to peer review another student's paper.


Well that is my small comedic rant. I thought you all would like to see it. I hope it wasn't offensive or seen as complaining. I enjoy being a tutor, I really do =)

Comedy in the field of Tutoring part 1

            

There are a few weeks left of school and Alex gave me the idea to put a post about humor in tutoring writing students. This is mainly a mixture of thoughts that caused me to chuckle, smile, or consider how helpful it can be to laugh in our field. Comedy can be an incredible tool when working with students of all types (except stuck up). I use small jokes all the time in my work and there are so many hidden benefits to it.

Have you ever had an instructor, teacher, or even parent that appear intimidating? Students that require help may feel humbled or below the tutor since they require their assistance. To many students it is embarrassing or incredibly difficult to ask for assistance from another, especially a stranger. A small joke with a smile can make a significant difference. It can help calm the student, reassure them that you're not a, "Judging know it all whose goal is to further their feeling of inferiority." Yes that may be a bit extreme, more realistically they're probably afraid of a lecture pointed at them or that you can't help. Of course this has an incredibly low chance of happening.

Hard to imagine? Well what if one freezing night you walk out to your car. You force open your frozen door and are excited to get the heater running. You slide the keys into the ignition and twist.....Nothing. Your battery is dead. You look across the icy parking lot to see a bundled up stranger walking to one of the few cars left. How quick would you be to run and ask for help? Would you rather call a family member for help? Rely on the stranger? Or wait to build your confidence, warm yourself up a little, and reassure yourself that another person will come? Now imagine the scenario where you actually go for it and dash to them. Their headlights illuminate your snowy body as you wave for their assistance. Would you feel better about yourself if the first thing they did was: blare their horn, lecture you about how this is your fault, saying nothing, or give a calming smile and ask, "I don't suppose you're going to ask for my autograph? ".

It isn't the best example but I hope it helps. I also believe it helps give a commonality between the tutor and the student. It reassures the student that you're there to help, not to grade. 

I tend to use jokes in spelling errors, introductions, and a lot in explaining things. A great example is when I'm asked, "What's the point of an intro and conclusion?" One of my explanations is my younger brother when he was a kid. "We tend to use introductions and conclusions without even noticing it. Like this one time when my brother was younger he decided it would be a great idea to flush one end of the toilet paper roll that way he could watch the roll itself spin round and round. He would laugh and laugh constantly until his parents found out. Of course it sounded similar to, 'AARRRGGHH What are you doing?! You can't do that!'  then would come the explanations as to why.  He would sob some and listen to why. Then at the end she would hug him and calmly say, ' I'm sorry but you can't do that, its wasteful, unsanitary, ect..' "  Its a very simple story but it helps explain why an introduction and conclusion helps while relating it with humor.

Using comedy does require some practice because the last thing we as tutors wish to do is to offend or increase the tension between us. Used correctly the mood can be relaxed thus increasing the chance that something could be learned instead of rejected. Clean, fun, and constant observations can clue you in if you're being successful or not. If there is no effect then you're always able to switch back to your normal style with ease. I enjoy using this approach because it extremely flexible, it makes my sessions more enjoyable for the student/s and myself, and it makes the day go by faster.

What do you think about using humor in tutoring?




Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Encouraging Collaboration in Group Projects

This week, my writing fellows class focused on their final group projects. They needed to choose an issue then work with their groups to research, write about, and present the issue to the class. This assignment is largely about time management and collaboration. For many first-semester students, this makes the project complex because multiple components need to be completed within a short window of time and as a collective effort.

During class, the students got into their groups (there are 3 groups total) to work on their projects. Within each group, there was at least one leader. However, I noticed that in 2 of the 3 groups, the leader(s) seemed to take a little too much control and some of the others often didn’t get the chance to speak up or state their opinions.

As an observer, I wanted to hear more from the ones that weren’t talking as much, so I tried to ask guiding questions that addressed the entire group but required individual responses. Even then, the leaders would speak on behalf of the group. Ultimately, I called on each member to talk about her/his role in the project. In one group, this really got some students to open up more. However, in a later out-of-class session, one group leader seemed to dislike my questions because it appeared to disrupt the presentation’s already established plan.

During this session, I asked the group to explain their topic and one student named Tiffany* immediately took the lead. She discussed the group’s presentation and stated everyone’s roles. At the end of her explanation, she said something along the lines of: “So the conclusion will be my solution to the problem.”

I chimed in: “You mean your group’s solution.”


Later on, I learned that they had decided to start from the essay component of the project and work their way back, leaving their presentation for last. When I let the group know that the essay was to be an extension of the presentation and not a summary, Tiffany immediately chose the essay topic and assigned everyone a role. While I understand that leadership is necessary when working in groups to ensure things get done, Tiffany’s form of leadership missed the collaborative aspect of this project, particularly when it came to making decisions.

Additionally, throughout the session, Tiffany’s body language indicated that she did not like my input. She avoided eye contact and would only address her group members (turning away from me) when I asked questions. She clearly and openly wanted to express her authority as the leader of this group and this project. In situations like these, I prefer to take an observant approach. I continued to take notes, listen, and ask questions.

In this scenario, I realize that being a writing fellow has its benefits and its drawbacks. The benefit is that I had the chance to observe the session as a fellow peer, so the students felt a little more open with me. The drawback is that since I am a peer and not a professor, Tiffany seemed to view my questions as intrusive. While my goal was not to disrupt the flow of the group, I am a proponent of hearing what each person has to say. It is great that Tiffany took on the leadership position, but there is a lesson in here for her, too: as a group project, their presentation and subsequent paper should reflect their efforts as a group and not one person’s interests alone.

*Student's name changed to protect privacy.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Group Work

Tomorrow I have to go into my Intermediate Writing class and face my group. Right now that class is causing me to lose hair but it's an interesting learning model that we're following: We've been meeting in groups for the whole semester now, centering all of our writing on one specific world issue. Over the past twelve weeks our group has become friends, worked long hours on Google docs having way too much fun with emoticons, adopted a new member into our group family, but now, we stress about our final project. Actually I only know that I stress, communication in our group has become limited. Through the combination of unpreparedness, the common cold (and the fear of proximity that comes with it), and the fear of providing criticism, our group has reached a lull in productivity.

Today however, I read some readings that have been provided me by an Instructor. They spoke about the benefits of group work, and the elements necessary to create effective group work. I realized that my teacher is doing everything right. She's given us specific expectations and provided structure for us, thus reducing the margin of error and putting accomplishment directly within our sights. She's given us an interesting, challenging project with room for everyone's talents and contributions (we're creating a group website to present our semester's creations in a compelling multimedia format). She's even kept herself close as a readily available resource for direction, mediation, and even encouragement. How did it all come to this? I could try and give you the reasons why, but I want to focus on solutions.

I tried to blame others but in the end, all I can productively think about is: "What can I do to help fix the problem?" Well today I decided to work on the website, and for some reason that helped a lot. I was invigorated by the forward momentum, and pleased with the small creative decisions that I made. Tomorrow I have determined to address all issues that are pressing, and to take responsibility and facilitate progress within our group. I am impassioned by the promised fruits of collaborative work: "...the collaborative method allows students to develop audience awareness, to check their perceptions of reality, to strengthen their interpersonal skills, and to take risks" (Bishop, 344). It is also suggested that the collaborative method or group method of learning strengthens creative abilities as well, which I'm all for.

If you'd like to check out our group website to be educated on the issue and realities of homelessness as well as on it's foremost solutions, click here: www.fightinghomelessness.weebly.com

This post includes paraphrasements of ideas taken from "Let Them Write--Together" by Lisa Ede and Andrea Lunsford and from "Teaching Lives: Essays and Stories" by Wendy Bishop.

ESL Students and Confidence

It's interesting that students are so willing to relinquish the hours of work they've put into a paper into the hands of someone they've never before met. I could give her poor advice; I could tell her to change a word or a paragraph and she would agree. I wonder how to instill more confidence into a writer while, at the same time, helping them improve their writing. Whenever I make suggestions to an ESL writer, their confidence seems, at times, to diminish. They see my corrections or confusion as a sign they are incompetent or stupid. In reality, they're just learning. I suppose helping them change their attitude about their progress, that even though they're struggling they're still doing fine, would be a good first step for them to see that struggle as part of the learning process and not a sign of failure.

Unfortunately, this thought is just a thought and is not yet converted into a plan of action. I don't know how to instill confidence in someone if they're writing is so rough I can't understand it. I guess just pointing out what they did well is a good start.

Solution to an Empty Schedule?

One of the biggest problems I have faced during my semester of being a Writing Fellow has been getting students to schedule appointments.  I work with a Basic Writing class, so the majority of the students I work with are freshmen.  I believe not being in college for a long while has something to do with the students’ lack of scheduling.  Because they are new to the school, freshmen often don’t understand how valuable the skills learned in our sessions can be.  I didn’t understand how important the peer review process was was until I took an advanced level course on Literary Criticism and Analysis.  It was also in this advanced level course that I had my first experience with a Writing Fellow.  I was also reluctant at first.  My schedule hardly had any openings as it was; I was also required to meet with someone for additional help.  However, when I actually sat down with her, I gained a great sense of confidence.  I might not have done well on some of my papers, but at least I knew someone saw that I understood the material.  I feel that a couple of students that see me understand how our meetings are beneficial, but for those who don’t, I am concerned.  They are required after all to see me at least three times during the semester.  It’s imperative to their grade, yet they do not schedule.
The director of the Writing Fellows program provided a solution to my problem.  We sat down and spoke about what was going on.  He showed me a strategy to sending out emails that would express how important it was to have each individual come in for an appointment.  It was simple. The subject line of the email contained the last name of the student.  In this way, it was expressed that the student was on my agenda.  My director described it as a way to get the attention of the student.  Then I typed a message giving the details of the next assignment and a reminder of how to schedule an appointment, copied the message, and pasted it on to each student’s email.  It made a huge difference.  The next day, I had three students sign up.  This was an incredible improvement from the many weeks I had looking at a blank schedule.  Maybe this is the solution.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

"Please, Don't Make Me Read It"

       I recently attended The National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing (NCPTW) at the Berkeley Preparatory School in Tampa Florida. The conference included a variety of sessions revolving around writing, peer tutoring, writing center work, and much more. I had the chance to attend Please, Don’t Make Me Read It, which created a new way of thinking for me in regards to language and writing with L2 students. While part of the session could be construed as problematizing English, the workshops highlighted the insecurities L2 students face when writing papers, which personally helped me and my outlook towards my ESL sessions.

        As the workshop began, the presenters passed out a sheet of paper that included a paragraph written in English. We were told to translate the paragraph into Spanish using the list of words provided. When first given the paper I was confident three years of Spanish was about to pay off, but as I wrote the first sentence I became mortified. Not only was the writing an unpleasant experience, but the presenters asked us afterwards to stand up and read it. When everyone said no I giggled since we were all saying, “Please, don’t make me read it;” The title of the session made complete sense.

        As the session continued, the presenters explained Kaplan’s “five rhetorical patterns—that is, paragraph-and essay-level organizational patterns—[which are] linked to five broad lingua-cultural groups: English, Semitic, Oriental, Romance, and Russian” (Kumaravadivelu 85). This part of the session discussed characteristics by culture, which enabled the audience to understand how a certain language is used in writing. The presenters included activities on how to identify a certain kind of language used in writing; Throughout the workshop, the audience—myself included—learned how an L2 student may feel when trying to write using Standard American English.

        Before I attended the conference, I had multiple meetings with one of my ESL students. I began our first session with ice breakers to get to know her—we discussed where we live, our majors, expectations, and a few interesting facts about ourselves. After the activity we began working on her paper; I instantly assumed this student was a reluctant writer. She didn’t want to read her paper out loud, she would ask questions and look for advice but she wouldn't accept the advice. She never wanted to work on higher order concerns; instead, she wanted to focus on grammar and punctuation. However, after sitting through this NCPTW workshop and being put in the position of a student trying to write in a different language, I now understand I should have a different tactic to work with my ESL student. In order to have a successful session I might try to put myself in her place and understand that writing is very complicated and it takes time to learn the rules and expectations.

        The recent session I had with this student after the conference was a success. I began the session by engaging in a conversation about her strengths, insecurities, and weakness in writing. We took a step back and examined the piece as a whole, working at a pace that was comfortable for her. I informed her to ask questions if she was unsure of something and we could stop and discuss it further. Instead of her reading the paper out loud to me, we took turns so she wasn't on the spot. Although we had a limited time and could only focus on two things—her thesis and transitions—we were able to focus deeply on them so she was able to understand the rules, and the teacher’s expectations. The NCPTW session I attended truly gave me insight on how to better work with ESL students. I can understand how an ESL student may feel and the emotions they mean when they ask “Please, don’t make me read it.”

NCPTW: A Quick Reflection

I would like to briefly reflect on a session that I attended during NCPTW, “What’s a Little Barbed Wire Between Peers?: The Challenges and Possibilities of Peer to Peer Tutoring with Incarcerated Students.” Two peer tutors and one program leader from Goucher College discussed the school’s prison education partnership with the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women and the Maryland Correctional Institution at Jessup.
 
The tutors talked about the need to immediately establish their roles as “peers” with the inmates. They talked about the successes and challenges that come with holding tutoring sessions in a prison, from experiences with students to equipment, institutional, and time limitations.  Although they discussed some of the parallels between their program and general writing centers, it must be stressed that these tutors work in an extreme environment. Their notions of authority, student relationships, and the rules they must abide by within the prison environment are incredibly different than anything we encounter at a traditional writing center. I found their work very admirable, and it made me appreciate the larger efforts that writing centers, in conjunction with their larger educational institutions, make in the community. 

Saturday, November 09, 2013

"I Don't Know"

Definitions we commonly use (derived from assignment sheets or tutoring culture) are words like "voice," "principles," "rhetoric," "analysis," "annotated bibliography," and so on. Even though I understand how to use them, it's difficult to teach someone else.

I have read that an indicator of whether we understand a concept or not is how well we can explain it to someone else: I would argue, then, that if we can't explain a concept we don't fully understand it. There have been times when I've said, simply, "I don't know." when I'm asked about a concepts, and, that's okay. I think it's good to run into information we can't transfer because it shows us an area we haven't learned as well as we thought. The solution, I think, is to study. There are ways to do this quickly.

Write Definitions: The practice of writing a concept in my own words, even if I don't keep what I've written, assists me when I'm put in a situation where I have to say it.

Explaining a concept to another tutor, even if it's "hey, can you tell me if I'm explaining this clearly?", can allow them to add their knowledge to ours, filling in gaps where information is lacking.

Team Tutoring: I've team-tutored with William a few times, and he's an expert (or well on his way to becoming one) on rhetoric. He teaches rhetoric so clearly and simply that I cannot misunderstand. I've since used what he's taught to help others understand.

I'll wrap this up with a story:
My dad was an Electrical Engineer and an expert on the Plumbing Code. Guys in his office would come in and ask for help about the Code: Everyone knew he knew it. My dad didn't need to memorize anything, he just knew where to find it. He pulled out his manual and turned to the right page, and that's the key: If we know where to find something, it can be just as good as knowing it because we can reference it again and again.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Horses, Plagiarism, and the Acquisition of Knowledge.

Hey Guys. :)

While I was working this afternoon in the Student Writing Center, I had a realization of gratitude. I was working with a student from Eastern Europe who we'll say is named Monika. Throughout the session as I felt like I had begun to know and understand Monika a little better, I noticed that she was very intelligent. She was quick to observe, quick to catch on, and could adeptly accept and apply new information in her own ways. Throughout our session, I found that Monika was educating me. I have had sufficient isolated exposure to American language, grammar, and rhetoric to be able to possess a degree of intuition with American writing but Monika knew what medium clauses and all that other funky grammar stuff was.

Since we work with a lot of non-native speaking students at our writing center, I have found that grammar, and specifically, being able to identify patterns of error within grammar as well as having a sufficient understanding of grammar to be able to accurately and confidently supply its rules and logic, is a considerable part of my job. That was a long sentence but what I'm getting at is that Monika was teaching me what I needed to know while I was identifying what she couldn't. This happened while we were discussing and learning styles of grammar that neither of us knew, together. I felt like it was a very efficient use of time, very satisfying. I sort of felt like a horse in the desert, carefully cherishing each drip of water pouring into his bowl in rhythm, while the sun ticks overhead. (kind of like an OCD something or other).

I've been reading also in the excellent book "ESL Writers" by Bruce and Rafoth, about identifying plagiarism. These two things correlate. Horses and plagiarism may not correlate, but anyways in this book it talks about how to approach plagiarism. If you suspect a writer, they suggest asking the writer about their knowledge of how to handle sources, or how they think sources should be handled in academic writing. When you ask those questions you leave the door open to discussion about citation practices and ethical standards, which can help a student add to what they already know about citation, rather than feeling like they have to throw away what they know and adopt a new method that their tutor is giving them.

I suppose the convergence between these two scenarios happens at the acquisition of knowledge. Perhaps its important to let as much of the writer or student into the session as possible, to focus on acclimation rather than delegation. Monika's intellectual competence and curiosity let itself into the session, and because of that we had an excellent discussion where both parties were engaged and we were meeting both personal and group goals. Whenever I'm working with a more timid or apathetic student though, I guess the Socratic method and the principle of encouragement/enthusiasm are the most robust tools in my toolbox, kind of like a hand-router and chisel. If anyone else has some super robust tools, I would love to borrow them sometime.

Working with Student Athletes


This is my third semester as a Writing Fellow at Nova Southeastern University and I have worked with a handful of student athletes in my classes. I have dealt with both dedicated student athletes and, well, the student athletes who don’t bother coming to sessions or responding to my emails. 

This semester, I have 3 student athletes in my writing fellows class. Two of them actually want to receive help and only mention their athletic responsibilities when a scheduling conflict occurs (one of the students’ teams requires travel time this semester) – and in these cases, they mention setting dates to reschedule immediately. These student athletes have attended every session on time and come prepared because they know we have limited time to work. 

On the other hand, I also have a student athlete in the class named Kelly*. Kelly missed her first two sessions with me this semester. In class, she would apologize for missing the meetings and promise to reschedule but never did.

During a class workshop about three weeks ago, my task was to walk around from group to group and assist as necessary. After about 30 minutes, Kelly called me over to ask when I was available the next day. She said that she needed to meet with me twice before the final paper was due on Friday to make up for missing our last two sessions. It was Wednesday.

In all honesty, I didn’t really know what to make of Kelly. Until that class period, there had been little to no communication between us. I had met with Kelly’s group member for those two out-of-class workshops, but Kelly never made any kind of effort to reschedule or even let me know that she wouldn’t be there.

I told Kelly that I had an open office hour the next day, but she said it would not work for her because she had two team meetings and study hall. She looked a little defeated. Then, Kelly started telling me about her schedule. She told me that on top of her classes, she was having complications with her team, getting certified by the NCAA, and completing her required study hall hours every week.

I remembered a conversation we had in my Writing Center Studies class about having our sessions count towards an athlete’s study hall hours. As soon as I told Kelly this, we scheduled an individual 30-minute meeting (which, as we discussed, would replace 30 minutes of study hall) during my office hour the very next day. Then, I explained what she would need to do and which department she needed to contact.

The next day, Kelly arrived five minutes before her scheduled appointment. She brought me her study hall contact’s information and was surprisingly productive throughout our meeting – perhaps because she now saw the session as an opportunity to get ahead in the midst of her hectic schedule. Further, Kelly was focused and knowledgeable about her paper topic so we got straight to work. Thirty minutes later, Kelly filled out her session report form and thanked me for meeting with her. She said she had a better understanding of the assignment and more direction to continue working.

Unfortunately, athletes don’t always have the best reputations in our academic communities. “Collaborative work, competitive students, counter-narrative: A tale from out of (the academy’s) bounds” states that college culture tends to stereotype student athletes based on what we see in the general media or hear around campus. I will admit, before our meeting, I had lumped Kelly into a category with other student athletes who use their sport as an excuse to miss class and writing fellow workshops.

This session taught me something, though – it reminded me that I should always stay open to talk with my students and hear their stories. Until Kelly told me what was going on with the team, I had no way to help her. Once I had something to go by, we could make a plan together. So, the next time I am faced with tutoring an “uninterested” student athlete, I will remember that, like any student, they face their own pressures.

*name of student athlete was changed to protect privacy.