I think all of us can agree that one of the most agonizing things to happen to a writer is to NOT be able to write. Whether we can't get our thoughts out on paper, or we can't them in order, or we just don't have any thoughts to write about; the feeling can be compared to a fish out of water. We gasp for breath. We flop around helplessly. Our one desire is to return to that which sustains us.
Late last month, my father passed away. He was relatively young (59) and we were not very close. But being the one who had to settle his estate, I found myself putting everything else in my life on the back burner. In the week I was handling the arrangements, my skills seemed to have left me. I wanted to write but my head was so clouded I couldn't get anything out. For the first time in a long time, I remembered what it was like to be a first-year student, struggling with a writing assignment. Suddenly, I found myself in need of the writing center. I needed to know how to formulate ideas, organize them and put them on paper. I think sometimes we, as tutors, forget what it's like to be on the other side of the table.
When I finally returned to the writing center, I found myself feeling anxious about having to help a student. I wasn't sure I could help, everything I knew was a jumbled mess in my brain. My first session back, was with a frequent and sometimes troubling student. I found myself unable to get my act together with this student. I got frustrated and at the end of the session, I felt like I had wasted my time as well as the student's.
I forced myself to take on more students than I was scheduled to that week. I knew the only way I was going to get back in the "WC race" again was to get back on the horse. I took each subsequent session as a time to reinvent myself as a tutor and to re-sharpen my own skills. I found myself trying different techniques in my sessions. I took on students that needed a variety of levels of help. By getting them to drive their own session and identify their own writing issues, I found that they were tutoring me! Over the last couple of weeks, I think I have learned just as much as they did.
I think it is important for each of us to remember, that we are not the be all and end all of writing. There is still much for all of us to learn. Who among us are professional or experienced enough to list ourselves among Longfellow, Hemingway or even Shakespeare? Is it any wonder so many writers turn into alcoholics?
Tutoring is a two way street. The students come in to the Writing Center for help. They feel like they are drowning. They feel like they cannot write. They feel like that goldfish who fell out of his bowl. They want to learn from us and unlock the mysteries of writing. But if the mysteries were the same for everyone, we would all write the same way! BORESVILLE!
My ultimate message here is simple: when you are tutoring your students, don't forget to tutor yourself and don't be afraid to learn something from the student. The fool is the teacher that believes he can learn nothing from the student.