I had a brilliant moment in one of my tutorials today. Too bad it didn’t come from me. A master’s student came in to discuss part of her thesis and she seemed nervous from the very beginning. She explained to me that English is her second language and that her paper seemed so great to her before she came into the Writing Center, but as soon as she sat down with a tutor she started realizing all the mistakes she had made. She is a regular here, and the way she was talking made it seem like coming in for a tutorial was a form of self-flagellation. I did all I could to assure her that many tutees (ESL or not) have that realization when they come in for tutorial, that we were here to help her improve rather than criticize her writing, and that everyone (even me! even tutors!) makes mistakes in their writing. She laughed a bit, but I wasn’t sure she believed me, and I continued to try to make her at ease and make the tutorial enjoyable.
In the course of our tutorial, another regular came in to peruse our bookshelves for instructions on how to write a letter to the editor. He was reading close by, and when he stood up to leave, he leaned in to our area to tell my tutee that he struggled with the same writing issues that she did. While their cultural backgrounds are rather different—he is Puerto Rican, she is Korean—both of them seemed visibly relieved to realize that there was someone else out there struggling much the same way. They chatted for a few minutes, he went on his merry way, and she turned her attention back to our tutorial—with a much more relaxed attitude and increased comfort as we discussed her paper. It dawned on me that neither of them seemed to realize that tons of students walk through our door every day with the same problems with articles, progressives, and translating from their first language—even though we tutors are certainly aware of that fact. The experience got me thinking about how to ensure that all of our students—ESL, ELL, EFL, 1.5s, native speakers, learning disabled, etc. etc.–are aware that they are certainly not alone and don’t need to get down on themselves. In particular, I want to make sure that the power hierarchy between tutor and tutee is disrupted in these situations. Have any of you out there had luck with group tutoring for ESL students? Or does anyone have further insight about non-native tutors? I realize that there are not simple answers to my questions or concern (as discussed in other blogs, some students self-identify, others don’t, some like my student appreciated the chance to talk with another ESL, others would want to distance themselves from other ESLs), but I am open to ideas about making tutoring a positive experience for everyone involved.
Another topic on my mind is weather. It’s somewhat of a joke around here, but weather has a large—and sometimes just plain shocking—impact on the number of students who show up for tutorials. If it’s snowing or raining, we have tons of cancellations and no-shows. If it’s sunny and warm (especially after a mid-west-esque cold spell), we have tons of cancellations and no-shows. This might seem like an issue of far less gravity than some of the others brought up by my colleagues, but having people miss their appointments means that we are simply not able to do our job. Does anyone out there have similar problems? What are the cancellation/no-show policies for other tutoring centers? Is anyone having any luck with theirs?