The Distance Across the Table

I’m new at this. In fact, I technically haven’t even started tutoring officially yet. That starts Wednesday for me. It’s Friday.

So I may not be the best person to talk about friendship in the tutoring session. Perhaps I can look at this post as a temporal document, something to refer to later when I have experienced the development of relationships with writers from across the table. For now, I’m just pulling from some observations I’ve made and some theories I’ve bounced around.

The essential question here is, “Is it okay to be more forward– more directive– as we get to know the writer more?”

My version of the short answer to this question is this: “It depends.” What a cop out, right?

As soon as we get comfortable in any arena, we start to slack. Whether it’s not dressing to impress as much or putting less of an effort in, we find this a trend in social culture. In the tutoring session, this is just as much important for the writer as it is the tutor. The writer doesn’t put as much “umph” into his participation, and the tutor doesn’t play by the rules as much.

This is not a condemnation of inside joke moments or tangents between a tutor and writer who know each other well. Rather, this is a recognition of the specific moments imbedded in the texts themselves. When we hold the paper in front of us, it is an object that we are processing data out of, into, and off of. It is the text of the session. In the text, we find opportunities– sentence structure, idea clarification, grammar mistakes– that we present to the writer. It is in these opportunities that we make decisions as tutors. It’s harder for a mind to recognize these opportunities as what they are when we are already familiar with the person across from the table. When we’re comfortable, we just see the encounter as another relation, do we not?

It’s when this happens that the puddle gets murky.

Getting back to my cop out, I think it’s important to be aware of the approach we take as tutors in each session (regarding directive versus non-directive). But in addition to that, we should also have mental tabs on the relationship we have with the writer and how that relationship parallels the nature of the session. Do we find ourselves just telling Jody what to do every time that she doesn’t come up with the answer herself? Do we just fix spellings without another thought because we want her paper to be good, but we don’t have time in the session to talk about everything? Is she improving from session to session, or are you just fixing mistakes?

How does the writer who is your friend compare to the writers that aren’t? How do their sessions compare?

Ultimately, we can’t forget the mantra that most writing centers adapt: we’re here to make better writers. Are we doing that? I think that asking this question can better adjust our choices to approach people we know all too well when it comes to helping out from the other side of the table.

P.S. I wrote this post not as an argument, but rather to think more about this issue and perhaps to get some feedback from those with the experience necessary to compose a thesis.


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