ESL and weather

Two ideas here: ESL and weather. (Not related other than by the fact that they’re on my mind today.)

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?
--Elizabeth Zimmerman


  1. 1) I agree I think many student writers think they are alone in having their problems with writing, even though we assure them that they are not. One thing we tried with moderate success for L2 students were discussion groups, where they would get together and talk about specific topics. Originally it was intended to practice spoken English, but developed into a discussion of specific language topics as well as a sort of commiseration session for folks to understand they are not alone.

    Have you ever read David Sedaris' essay in Me Talk Pretty One Day about his experience in a FSL (French as a Second Language) class. (I think it is called "Jesus Shaves.") He ends it with all the students commiserating like "death camp survivors" in their broken French.

    2) As for the weather: it depends on the time of the semester. If something is due and someone is really struggling they'll risk a tornado to be in the WC. We once had a student complain because snow had shut down our College, and the WC was not open.

  2. Anonymous1:26 PM

    Sedaris reading his essay is online:

  3. Thanks, Anonymous. Now that I listen to it, I realize it that is not the essay/story I was thinking off. It is in the book somewhere, however.

  4. Anonymous1:27 PM

    About the weather...

    Working at a WC for a community college in Southern California, I can definitely say there is a drop-off in attendance on rainy days (students don't want to drive in from as much as 20-30 miles away, or have to commute via public transportation, or prefer a warm cozy house to a cold school) and on sunny days (since we live practically within spitting distance of the beach). This winter has been particulary interesting, as SoCal has had more rainfall this winter than in any year anyone can remember--lots of cold, windy, rainy days. And, yes, WC attendance has been hurt as a result. We *strongly* encourage students to call in to cancel rather than no-show, but that encouragement meets with varying levels of success.

    Only VERY rarely do we invoke the notion of prohibiting students from making any more appointments due to their bad attendance at previous ones. (I've been working here in one capacity or another for nearly seven years and can only think of two or three instances, off-hand.) Even with the weather concerns we've had lately, we have had only one student who has made five tutoring appointments and missed all of them. We'll be giving her a talking-to when she next darkens our door. :)

    So to address the issue in a roundabout way, we don't have a formal policy for how many student tutoring appointments a student can miss before officially getting on our bad side and running the risk of being denied future appointments--although four or five missed appointments, cancels or otherwise, could be grounds for this. Perhaps we should, but putting a policy in place would seem to negate the ability to handle cases individually...

  5. Anonymous4:39 PM

    ESL and weather...what they might have in common in Elizabeth's post is really "environmental." -- The weather inside has to be hospitable too! That can happen when students look around or overhear what is familiar--a language, a common challenge...We are trying internships in the WC this semester with grad students from the TOESL program. The thing to picture is eight grad students learning to teach English to new speakers of English...but each of these grad students but one counts English as their second language. The interns are from China, Japan, Costa Rica, and Korea. They are nervous about their expertise in English but are finding already that they have much to offer to students in our WC...those who speak a language other than English...and those from the prairie as well!

    And speaking of in Kansas the building our WC is in doubles as the storm shelter...and believe me there are times when we need to use it...Toto too!



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