My "Scribe" experience

I had a consultation straight out of a "What not to do while tutoring" manual this week. I walked into the center's waiting room sunshiney after a pleasant and rewarding global revision consultation and immediately became confused. Another consultant had helpfully given a file to who I thought was my next appointment. I waited for her to fill it out, and then walked with her to a small consultation table. After a long stint where she took off her shoe and scratched her foot she informed me that "Bob" would be coming in a half-hour, he was sorry that he couldn't make it. (It was a 60 minute session) I looked at the file and saw that it was, in fact, Bob's file. I asked if they were collaborating on a paper together, and she told me no, she was Bob's scribe, we should probably get started on going over the paper to make sure that it flowed smoothly and didn't have the words "it" and "but" in it.

I was a bit taken aback, proceeding without Bob, but I decided we should pick up and move to a bigger table since there would be three of us meeting when Bob arrived. I assumed that Bob's scribe was someone arranged through disability services--she had talked about it so matter-of-factly. But as our conversation continued (without Bob) and she consistently pushed me to proofread the paper in front of me, I realized that she was probably Bob's mother or something. I was completely confused and taken aback and instead of "Freeze-Framing" the session and calling her out on this paper that she outwardly admitted to writing that had Bob's name on it, I continued to allow her to force me to proofread. Finally, after 50 minutes, Bob showed up. (He had been talking about the paper with his professor!) They fought about things, Bob telling his scribe what she had done wrong, sometimes changing the pronoun "you" to "we" but always slipping back into "you" and the scribe taking offense to the offered suggestions, all the way pushing the paper in front of me to get me to search for more surface errors.

So after 55 confusing minutes I finally toughened up and told the scribe that I wanted to talk to Bob about his paper, and Bob had a couple of valid questions that we discussed, ignoring the comments of the scribe. Who had ownership of this session? Who had ownership of this paper? Who has ownership of my lost self-esteem and confidence? Augh! I felt completely unprepared, and completely (like Sarah) like I brought my this situation upon myself by not stopping it from the beginning. Before this session, I feel I was completely a go-with-the-flow, anti-taking-control consultant, but now I guess I've been baptized into the need for authority. Any suggestions for balance?


  1. I think there's nothing wrong with going with the flow...up to a point. I can understand being so taken aback that you just went with it. I wonder, though: How long have you been tutoring, just out of curiosity? Are you an undergrad or a grad student? I ask because I'm curious what you would do the next time, if another student were you put you in a similar situation, and if it would matter if that student were on the same academic keel as you, were more advanced or less so.

    I've seen students try to make appointments and then send friends in on their behalf, or try to bring in a friend's/sibling's paper. Until one is put in that position I think one tends not to consider how to react to it. I suppose the point of this is: Now that it's happened, how would you react differently? What would you tell Bob's scribe? Are you someone who feels comfortable being in enough position of authority to take control of that situation? (I know tutors who aren't.)

    --Michelle (grad student & peer tutor)

  2. uh . . . weird.

    I actually didn't have any regrets about the consultation I brought upon myself (even my choice to read aloud turned out to be beneficial), but it did make me realize how much control we really do have within our sessions. Though they may not always be conscious, we do make choices all along the way.

    I think it is important to give yourself a chance to evaluate the situation. If I had run from my "Bob", I would have missed out on an entertaining session in which I actually learned a lot. My initial thought when you began describing your experience with a "scribe" was (like you) that she was acting through disability services.

    As for balance, I think you just have to trust your instincts, going with what you are comfortable with and resisting what you're uncomfortable with. That IS going with the flow and being in control. This "scribe" seemed rather bold, scratching shoelessly and pushing proofreading. I don't like her and I bet you didn't either. (Sorry lady, no shoes, no service. Or no Bob, no consultation. Company policy?)

    This brings up a good question--do you look at a writer's paper without the writer present? Is it a judgement call? Perhaps an email consultation would be best so that it doesn't become a game of telephone? Even then, Bob's mom could be the recipient. Do we give lectures on appropriation or plagarism?

    Of course, Bob's scribe/mom, took this problem to a whole new level by admitting she'd written the paper with his name on it.

  3. I'm with Sarah on this one--what an awkward, weird consultation. I've never encountered a scribe before, and even if I had, I doubt that he/she would have been as dominating as this one seemed to be.

    I've sat here and thought about how I would handle a situation like this one, and it's quite a question. Perhaps I would have asked up front what she considers her role as 'scribe' to be? Did she give you any hints?

    Had she been from disability services, I am pretty sure what she was doing didn't align with her job description. And if she was Bob's mom, she should've been ashamed of herself for taking a critical learning experience away from her son--and for putting YOU in such a weird, uncomfortable situation.

    If something just feels wrong to you, I believe you have the right to pause the consultation, and let this person know that you're uncomfortable with it. I think that you had a legit reason to reschedule, because Bob was absent and his name was on the paper.

    This lady was pushy and rude, and I'm sorry that you had to deal with the situation. I have to agree with Sarah, again, in saying that letting you're feelings be known about uncomfortably is going with the flow and being in control at the same time.

    Good luck with everything Elizabeth!

  4. This consultation also brings up a sticky ethical question: what is our responsibility to our institution in regards to Bob's academic dishonesty? If he really did not write the paper and is purporting to his professor that it is his, are we obligated to turn him in?

  5. i have no other comment than that is official scribe?!?! i have no comment on how to handle that because it was undoubtedly doomed from the start.

  6. Elizabeth, I really doubt there is much more you could have done. You were forced to walk a plank of sorts, but it doesn't sound like you failed; in the end you still made comments to Bob and tried to answer his questions, in spite of the pushy scribe.
    Hind sight is 20/20, so I wouldn't be down on yourself, but I would suggest playing the consultation out in your head--or write about it--to find openings that you may have missed or comments that may have turned the discussion to a less fix-it-shop approach.

    Clint, I know that the BSU policy about plagiarism, suspected or confirmed, is because we don't give grades or evaluate, and because we keep consultations confidential, we don't report to the instructor. We do, however, explain to the writer what the consequences of plagiarism are and offer suggestions to cite properly or offer to help them with original work. We also comment on our paperwork that plagiarism was discussed.

    It's a fine line, but it seems to work well.

  7. Thanks for all of the feedback to the scribe situtation. To answer Michelle, I am a grad student that has a few years of writing center experience under my belt, but I had never dealt with such a weird situation. I feel that I am more prepared now to confront a student (or scribe) on the subjects of appropriation, academic honesty, and shoe wearing.

  8. Anonymous11:37 AM

    That's when I would turn to the head of the Center and ask for some help. I'm a newbie, myself, having only done this job for a semester, but that's a horribly awkward position, and certainly seemed to ultimately be a waste of time. You shouldn't ever have to work with something that confuses you, or makes you uncomfortable. I would have turned to my boss for backup and help.

    Besdies, we're required to report any suspicous papers, to help prevent plagarism. This was blatent plagarism and I don't think I would even have agreed to continue working with mom/Bob/whoever.


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