This last week, we read the story of a consultant's dealings with a student she was tutoring in the article "Whispers of Coming and Going": Lessons from Fannie" by Anne DiPardo. Although the essay had many different themes; preparedness for tutoring, technique, minorities, self-reflection, and more, I found something more. People are fragmented.
The student in this story had come from a Navajo reservation, and had been shuffled from one school to the next while growing up. She became separated from not only her family, but from her culture. Now in college, her goal is to go back and teach on the reservation. But her writing skills as well as her communication skills, are lacking drastically, and she is forced to go to the Writing Center to try to strengthen her abilities.
Throughout the essay, we see Morgan, Fannie's tutor, struggle to get the student to progress in her writing. At the end of the essay we see what the author's view was on this situation. "At semester's end, she (Morgan) still didn't know that Fannie was a non-native speaker of English; she didn't know the dimensions of Fannie's inexperience with academic writing, nor did she know the reasons behind Fannie's formidable block." Basically, if Morgan had got Fannie to open up by asking her questions about her background beyond what was on the assignment, she would have seen more of what was causing Fannie's struggles in writing.
But I saw more within this story than that. Fannie was forced to leave the only world she knew at a very young age, and then forced not to speak in her native tongue or embrace the parts of her culture that she loved and missed. When she returned home her family was proud of her, but did not know about the world she was immersed. She became fragmented.
Fannie's dream is to come back to the reservation to teach clearly came from the place in her that yearned to have been able to do the same as a youngster. She knows that she needs to get through college to be able to do this. But her resentment is obvious, and it shows up in the form of resistance, frustration, withdrawal, and self-doubt. All of which Morgan, the tutor, is not aware of, because she does not know Fannie's past.
Most people are fragmented in some way. Abuse, learning disabilities, hardships, disappointments, and tragedies break and shape who we are at each moment. Especially with ESL students we have no idea the background they come from, why they are here, and the feelings they have about the situation they are in. As tutors, we need to understand that this becomes a part of what we deal with in our little cubicles for thirty minutes, not just the written words on the paper. Writing is putting yourself on the paper our there for all to see.
Tutoring obviously is not a therapy session, I realize this. And with our time being so limited, even with returning students, there is not a lot that we can do to get to the exact problems of each person. But when I hear sessions that deal expertly with the technical problems of a paper, but make no personal connection, it makes me sad. What if this is the exact thing this student needs? Even a few words of encouragement, or feeling that the person who is helping them in an area that they are overwhelmed cares about more than grammar and form.
I will strive to remember the story of Fannie during my tutoring sessions. Hopefully I can help each student find their way to a better paper, but I will also strive to make a connection. Both are important, because like I said, fragments aren't only in sentences.