Through the few sessions I've been able to observe thus far, I've noticed a pattern or two. The first is not the main message of this post but is necessary to mention all the same. I have heard the exact same sentence uttered to me the second I've sat down at every session. This sentence is "feel free to jump in." The tutors, having undergone this exact process in order to attain the position they fill today, know that I'm there to be a fly on the wall, an anthropologist, an empty glass to be filled with the splendor that is their writing expertise. However, they seem to want my help! I'm just some random long haired fellow they only just met, and they want my input? To me, this is an expression of the idea that no tutor is ever fully confident in his or her own ability. They, we, all realize that they are not the end-all-be-all of writing, which is actually very refreshing to see at Columbia. A lot of people I have met here have developed this particular attitude- "Oh, I'm an art student because I am already such an amazing artist, I'm only attending the college to smooth out a kink or two." This is preposterous, and an extremely heavy burden to bear. There is no epitome of talent that we will one day reach and so cease to progress. We are always learning and developing ourselves to a further degree, as people and as artists, until we take our last breaths. Being around people who recognize this is the first step towards participating in an active, effective learning environment. But I digress- back to the sessions. By far, the most important aspect I recognized in the tutors that trained me was the ability to impose your own humanity on another. By this I mean that you are able to prove to someone in that short 50 minutes, or as soon as possible in order to get the writer engaged, that you are a real person. Not that they think you're a cyborg intending to take down civilized humanity, but I've been in some of these kids' shoes. Whatever the obstacle, many do not show up ready to engage in intellectually stimulating conversation. They're minds are somewhere else, it's too early, they don't have confidence in the system- these are complicated people, and they keep on coming up with new reasons to be nonchalant and uninvolved. And by "coming up with" I do not mean to suggest that they are being dishonest with us, but more so that this world is ever changing and circumstances nowadays cover a much wider range of ridiculousness than they ever have. You have no idea what kind of day the writer is having, but you have to show them that you could be having one of those days too because you are a human being, and everyone has problems. But while they are in your session, the problem (I prefer the word situation) at hand is the paper that they have to write to get a grade, and that paper has to be focused on to be written. Even if the writer doesn't like you, he or she has to think that you're serious about helping them or else they won't be serious about being helped, and instead opt to do it all on their own. That's okay from time to time, but where would any of us be today without outside help? Bad places, that's where we would be. So if you're reading this as a trainee and perhaps even co-tutor, ask yourself- do you really want to help? Do you have what it takes to look this person in the eyes, get their attention and make them believe that you're on their side? Should they even want you on their side? If the answer to any of these is "no," you may need to go and have yourself a think.
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I have posted a poll in the IWCA forums: IWCA Forum: Peer Tutor => What do we call ourselves: the poll! It is a part of an earlier discussion that kind of petered out about the titles used for writing center workers. Please take a moment and vote! If you don't have an account on the forum, you can register for one by clicking on the "Register" link (next to the rocket icon in the top-right of the page.) Don't forget to state your institutional affiliation when you request and account. (That's how the IWCA Forum keeps out spam accounts.)
As a frightened freshman, I wandered deep in the bowels of the library basement. My eyes darted from room number to room number, looking for the aid my professor promised I could find. At the end of the hall, a golden light shone from an open doorway. My approach was slow and I lingered on the threshold. All uncertainty vanished when I was greeted with a smile and welcomed into the new world of the Tutoring Center. At the time, I did not know I would spend most of my weekdays in that room as a senior or how mundane this new world would become. How could I? I didn’t even know how much insight I would receive from my tutor that day! Being a learner in the writing center is a wholly different experience than being a tutor, yet I know many of my colleagues have not had the same learning experiences that I have. I think this is unfortunate because there is much that a tutor can gain from being a learner. It was my freshman year of college and everything was new. For me, that meant that fear
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