The Hidden Lesson

Several aspects of a writing consultation involve isolation. We isolate ourselves in where we tutor- shutting ourselves into tiny carrels with just the client. We isolate aspects of papers that need work, while disregarding things that might be only considered “acceptable.” We isolate subjects and style guides and types of writing, without thinking how all types of writing are equally important. Mostly, though, tutors often forget about the emotional needs and wants of the client. We forget that while we have done the tutoring process over and over before with all types of people, many “first-timers” may feel isolated and nervous in their first session.

My most vivid memory of this incident is with a client I had from Panama. His name was Ricardo and he was a freshman who had transferred during the spring semester. He came in with a lot of confidence about whom he was as a person, but still seemed very nervous about the contents of his paper. I could tell he was rather anxious, so I told him to set his paper aside, and we talked for a bit about his personal life. I asked where he was from, why he decided to come to A&M, and what he plans on doing once he graduates. It turned into an amazing discussion: he opened up to me about his family, about being the first person to attend college, about his hopes of becoming President of his country one day and knowing that education was the best way to achieve this goal. Most importantly, for me, it helped me realize what his writing goals were focused on. For him, it was evident that he felt far more comfortable, like he found a place where it was acceptable, and many times respected, that he was an international student. The rest of the session proceeded with a few basic grammatical explanations, and a few breaks to discuss organizational issues. He left with a paper that had several changes and ideas marked along the margins that summarized those brief 45 minutes.

The session really taught me something about writing: while I know we worked on grammar and I could search through my records to find the exact discussions of the session, what I remember most was the change in confidence. He came in, being a shy, nervous freshman boy and left feeling confident and clear in his writing goals as well as life goals. I believe that sometimes it isn’t the “grammatical knowledge” or the “organizational coherence” of a session that matters as much as the emotional change that can take place in a person. Ricardo taught me as much as I taught him that day: sometimes just being personable and welcoming can create confidence in someone else and if you are really lucky, that might be all a person needs to succeed.


  1. I think that connecting with a tutee is key to a successful session. The effort of trying to make someone feel comfortable works wonders. Although some people take a little more effort to make them open up, it’s worth it, especially if the tutee ends up revealing an important struggle. Sometimes they just need someone to talk to them. I had a tutee that was writing a paper on the differences between the United States and Mexico. He was an ESL student, and was having a hard time adapting to people’s attitudes and the lifestyle. I took a moment to ask him what part of Mexico he was from, and then I let him know that my family is from Mexico too. I told him I visit often and also notice the differences. Then I revealed that English was my second language too, and he was surprised. He was excited, because he said “Maybe my English will be as good as yours someday.” I felt like I had really made an impact on this student. He had opened up so much more than I expected, it was great. He went from being shy and quiet to excited and talkative. I learned that just a little bit of hospitality goes a long way. I didn’t think he was going to react so positively. I honestly was hoping for just a little more openness. I now know that it is crucial to talk with your tutees, and show them you really care about helping them, that I’m not just getting credit to listen to them and criticize them. I feel like I will have an easier time opening up now.


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