the dual roles of teaching and consulting

I have been tutoring in writing centers for a couple of years, but this semester for the first time I am also teaching an English 101 class. I know that this is a situation a lot of English grad. students find themselves in, and wonder if anyone else has any reflections on this--I feel a little bit like I have a bizarre split personality. When I teach I try to look teacherly by wearing blazers and turtlenecks (because physically I look about age 12) and when I tutor I wear jeans and a hoodie. I knew that I responded differently to writing in these two situations but didn't realize how big the split was until yesterday, when I realized that a student from my Eng 101 class had scheduled a consultation with me. I hadn't told my students they were forbidden from conferencing with me in the writing center--I don't want them to be in any way dissuaded from using the center--but I hadn't prepared myself for actually consulting with them. He was working on a paper for his music history class, and the writing center visit was a requirement made by the teacher. We talked about the paper, and different directions he could go with it, but I felt like he was responding to me as a teacher, not a peer, and I was guiding him like a student, not a peer. Another weird twist to the situation was that he had actually been absent from my class that morning, so when he came in to the writing center and saw that I was the same Elizabeth that taught his class he proclaimed right away, "I was sick, but I slept it off." After we had finished discussing his music paper, he asked me what he had missed in class that day, and we had a mini-teacher/student conference. So--teacher/peer conference/consultation fusion--can it happen? should it be avoided? any awkward/inspiring experiences out there?


  1. Hey Elizabeth --

    I direct the writing center at a small private college in South Dakota, and I just wanted to chime in to say that I'm familiar with the split you mentioned. When I started at this institution, I was directing the WC and tutoring in it, and teaching a couple of courses. After the first year, I started to schedule myself out of the tutoring rotation, simply because the students--especially my own, but not only--continued to perceive me as the teacher rather than the tutor. I still tutor in special circumstances, but I found the split quite difficult to overcome.

  2. Next year I will be in the same situation and I've been putting a great deal of thought into how I will handle it. I'd like to say I had an answer. It sounds to me, Elizabeth, that you managed a decent balance. That being said, I do plan to forbid students from my classes from scheduling appointment with me in the center. My reasons maybe selfish--I want to avoid the situation you found yourself in--but I feel I need to draw a line between being a consultant and being an instructor.

  3. This is definitely a matter that has concerned me. I wrote about it a long time ago--whether a "teacher can be a peer." Previously I was firm defender of the peer element, but then I began to reconsider what role faculty can play in a writing center, particularly in a center that has a large population of non-traditional students.

    I'm not certain now where I stand on the issue. I need to think about it more.

  4. Hey Elizabeth,

    I know that you posted this some time ago, but I thought I chime in anyway. I'm not a teacher, nor will I ever be, but I thought I'd offer a comment. I was actually there when this whole consultant/teacher fusion situation happened, and I think that you handled it beautifully.

    When he walked into the center, I was filing some folders, and I remember looking up just in time to catch the look on your student's face as he blurted out his shocked response. You simply gave him the 'teacher nod' and then the 'consultant smile'...there was a definite difference between the two. I think this melted what otherwise could've have been a super awkward, tension filled 30 minutes for the both of you.

    It may have still been a bit awkward for you, but I think that smile of yours helped a ton. I realize that he probably still saw you as The Teacher rather than a peer consultant, but maybe he was able to see you as a Writer as well, not just some all knowing being that dishes out homework and marks up papers.

    I know that there's a lot of mixed emotions, conceptions, and hindrances that lie in-between the teacher/consultant--student/writer gap, but perhaps something can be gained through it too. It seems to me that it creates a sort of "human element" that might not have otherwise been achieved.

    Don't know if any of this means anything, or is of any value, but I thought I'd mention it anyway.

    Good luck!!!!


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