Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Revisiting the Role of Vulnerability in the Writing Lab

As I have taken time before I graduate to reflect back on the past year in my role as a writing lab consultant, it becomes clear that one thing has remained a constant: vulnerability is unavoidable.  I first became interested in this topic during the training course for working in the writing lab.  My knee-jerk reaction to the mere mention of the word made me want to run screaming in the opposite direction.  Showing off my vulnerability to someone else in my life was a terrifying concept.  But, as I did more research on the topic, I became engrossed in finding a way to live my life in this way—being comfortable with being uncomfortable. 

I finished up my first semester as a writing lab consultant and I was ready to fully embrace being vulnerable. I bought the books, did the research, and preached the concepts to any friends that would listen.  I had given an informative speech on it in my writing lab training course, opening myself up and relating it to small parts of my life. It felt like I could be the spokesperson for vulnerability.  Boy, was I na├»ve.  On the very last day of class that semester my grandfather passed away unexpectedly.  Everything that I had just spent that past two months researching and becoming was thrown out the window.  I took the “appropriate” time to grieve on the outside, but became a hardened shell of the person I once was, struggling to fully express all of my mixed emotions.

During the following semester, I ran in a full sprint away from anything that could possibly trigger vulnerability.  I distinctly remember a student bringing a very personal piece into the writing lab. I was trying to avoid any negative “real” conversation about it, frantically focusing only on the positive to keep both of us from falling apart during the session.  Hindsight is 20/20, and looking back on this session I realize how much we both missed out; the student could have explored ways to express her thoughts in a cathartic way, and I could have empathized with another person going through some similar emotions that I was.  It wasn’t until my friend called me out for my behavior that semester that I realized something had to change.

Almost a full year later I am still working on embracing vulnerability, not only in myself, but in others that I interact with.  As I have been slowly writing this piece over the past few weeks, I can see how vulnerability rears its head in the learners I meet with.  With each comment of “wow, this is bad” and “wow, I’m dumb”, I can see how they are still putting themselves in an uncomfortable place by having another person give feedback on their writing.  Just last week one of my learners brought in a piece that was outside his usual style of writing, and he continually made comments about how it wasn’t good.  I kept reassuring him that it was a great piece, but it was clear that trying something new put him in a vulnerable position.

It’s important that we as consultants and tutors recognize that the writing process is a vulnerable one for many people. Each time a learner steps into a session with you, they are bearing a part of them that sometimes they would rather keep hidden.  On the flipside, we can be exposed to some pieces or learners that bring out the vulnerability in ourselves.  These feeling should not be shoved in a box and pushed aside, but rather acknowledged and considered as to grow into a more well-rounded consultant capable of connecting to others on the "vulnerability plane". 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Once Upon a Time, There Was a Rapid-fire Client and a Confused Consultant...

As tutors, we want to do our best to help other students improve their writing. And normally, we expect a client to come in with one piece of writing they want to focus on – but what do you do if they have too many? I once had a client that initially told me she wanted to work on a short story for her creative writing class. Since I didn’t see creative writing come through very often, I was excited to help her with her story. Until, that is, three paragraphs into reading it together, she stopped reading and pulled up an unfinished poem. I was a little confused at first, but allowed her to explain what the poem was about, and just as I asked her what she wanted help with, she pulled up yet another poem. This continued a few times before I realized she was just pitching story ideas to me and we weren’t actually talking about her writing. She seemed so excited, and I wanted to help her with whatever she needed help with, but it’s hard to help when the writing in question keeps changing. In an attempt to refocus the consultation, I asked if we could look at her short story again, since she said it was for a class and the poems weren’t, but she kept showing me different stories and poems and I didn’t know what to do. I left the consultation feeling like I hadn’t done anything to help her. 
Looking back on it, I know exactly what I should have done instead of just letting my client jump between pieces. When I tried to get her to focus on just one piece, I wasn’t being very assertive and made it sound like more of a suggestion than a solid request. When I asked, we would go back to the story for a minute, but as soon as I tried to ask her about the actual writing would she switch back to a poem. I didn’t realize it at the time, but in situations like this, it’s important as a tutor to understand your role. My problem was that I didn’t take initiative in that consultation - I should have asserted myself and told her to pick just one of all her writing pieces, because it was impossible to help her with every poem she was writing in the short space of our half an hour consultation. In that moment, I needed to tell her that though the fact that she writes poems outside of school was great, she needed to pick one thing to work on and could schedule other appointments to work on other individual pieces. As a tutor, my role was to make sure that this client was able to get legitimate help and further understand the writing process, and during that consultation I failed to do that due to my lack of assertiveness. 
Sometimes as a consultant that's typically more introverted and passive like myself, it's easy to accidentally let a distracted client take the wheel and not know how to get back on track. In this case, as tutors, we have to learn to assert ourselves, and make sure the student we're helping knows what we're there to do. It can be tough to tell a client not to do something during a consultation, especially when you're afraid of offending them or hurting their feelings, but in order to have successful and productive consultations, being assertive is absolutely necessary. 

Monday, March 05, 2018

Confidence is Key

As a student manager of the writing center, I assist in leading training meetings. At the beginning of the year, I had to run a quick errand as the meeting started. By myself, I couldn’t stop thinking about standing before all my peers, especially without the support from the prior year’s managers. The concept of having forty-some eyes on me was so nerve-wracking that my hands shook. When I joined the other managers at the front of the room, speaking clearly and confidently, I calmed down, proving to myself that I was capable.

Peer tutoring fosters growth, and not just for those being tutored.

I’ve been friendly but shy my whole life, making few friends and keeping my head down. I came into the writing center as that person, quiet and insecure. Part of the writing center training was how to interact with the client, how to ask questions instead of answering, minimalist versus directive consulting, the delicate ratio of listening and speaking. However, the real training was the on-the-job experience. I learned quickly that part of my role as a consultant was to be outgoing. I had to greet my client in an enthusiastic but approachable manner, providing a comforting first impression. In consultations, I learned to establish a safe environment for my clients, allowing them to relax and share their work. The writing center theory was valuable, yet it was the experience of being shy with shy clients that made me a consultant. To draw them out of their shells, I couldn’t have my own.

Coming out of my shell was freeing. With the combination of training and experience, my self-doubt diminished. I went into every consultation with the surety that I could make a difference for the client. This surety made a difference for myself. I became so in love with the feeling of confidence, of self-accomplishment, as well as the friendly relationships I established with everyone around me. The writing center was a refuge in my tumultuous life. After a year and some change as a consultant, I applied to be a student manager. It’s been difficult at times, but as someone who also loves behind-the-scenes work, it’s been rewarding.

Consulting has given me so much in interpersonal skills. Knowing how to be an active listener as well as being approachable is a benefit in my personal life. I’ve also been able to manipulate body language- where to sit during consultations, how to open up and be engaged. I’ve also learned a lot about being in the moment. There’s only so much time in consultations, and many of my clients, I don’t see again. I have to make the most of my half-hour with them, working as hard as I can to help them.

I’ve gained so much confidence in myself from the writing center. I’m confident in my work here, so I can be confident in my work in other areas of my life.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

A Curveball Consultation

 Many of you know the standard routine of an English tutor's workThat is to say, we have all had consultations that become regular and have a theme. Maybe you tend to get a large amount of History papers, or rather you have quite a collection of creative writing. Whatever you may feel this to be we all have a consultation that we are used to. But what happens when you get a very short or long piece or writing that you don't know what to do? To many this sounds like a nightmare only a tutor would have, but to us (tutors) this is a very feared event. This article will be specifically focusing on very short consultations with an overview on how to help other strange consolations. To overcome this problem, we will first need to get an example of it.  

One day while working at my local high school as a tutor I saw I had a client that day. Nothing seemed to be abnormal and all the client stated for the writing piece was that it was a thesis. I didn't realize how much problems this small paragraph could give. The client then arrived, and we began. The first thing I asked was what we were working on today, and the client replied with correcting a thesis that she got a low grade on. The client then pulled out a paper that had a ninety-five percent written on it. This posed three problems: one I was correcting a thesis paragraph which has an extremely low amount of content, second the client had received a high grade so there was very little to fix that they got wrong and three the client had already written the rest of the paper. It was quite a challenge to overcome, but in the end I thought of the solution much after the frustrating consultation of that day. 

To sum up what happened in the end the client and I spent about ten minutes to fix something that could have been done in two. It was extremely hard to find anything other to do then to fix what they had and suggestions on making sure they do it correctly in future writing. I left feeling defeated and the client didn't get much out of it. One solution to avoid short consultations is to ask if the client would like to talk about anything else. This helps guide the consultation towards more on what the client is avidly looking for. Another helpful trick is to ask whether the client has anything else they want to work on if you somehow finish the main writing piece with a good amount of spare time, lastly if you're given a short piece (intro, outline) you can help the client plan their next step in the paper 

In the end communication is the most important part. You must ask what the client wants and what they bring. If they bring an item that's small, maybe you'll have enough time to start on another item. If they bring in a giant piece suggest they try to get more time so that you two can finish it another day. You may get a piece you really don't agree on it ideals, for these all you have to do is put aside your personal beliefs and remain professional (Say perhaps an essay on why people should not eat meat). There are many types of strange things like these: just remember if you get one that you heavily reflect on how to improve upon it.