A group from the Texas A&M University Writing Center presented research at the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing back in early November entitled “Exploring Professional and Personal Benefits of Tutor Identity.” Following our Chicago group’s study concerning tutor identity and how difficult consultants mold a tutor both in the present and his/her future professional endeavors, I’ve thought a bit more about the way my perceptions of a “difficult consultation” have changed.
During our focus group, we asked our colleagues specifically how their most memorably difficult consultations have helped shape their tutor and/or personal identity. Our respondents, it turns out, have learned all kinds of virtues through their tutoring – patience, the value of saying “no,” compassion, etc. I realized after this discussion with my coworkers that I don’t see difficult consultations the same way I did a year and a half ago when I first started tutoring.
Then, I fully expected every session with an international student to be taxing and frustrating, and I assumed that sessions with native English speakers would be a cakewalk. I had a similar attitude about online submissions. There is no doubt that in-person sessions with nonnative speakers are likely to present unique challenges that you wouldn’t otherwise experience – simple communication barriers due to the language disconnect, misinterpretations of facial expressions and nonverbal behavior (for both tutor and student), and perhaps the fact that the student will walk away having learned nothing substantial because of these potential obstacles.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. I can (and should) walk into a session with an international student hoping for the best. The truth is, my most rewarding consultations have been with nonnative speakers. In order to make them productive for both parties, we, the consultants, must try to seek common ground with the student. I must find a way to encourage the student and assert his ability so that the student knows he is in good hands. Often, international students walk in to sessions with low morale and will often say, “This isn’t going to be good” or “I’m terrible at writing and/or grammar.” When I hear these things, I make it my goal to send the student off smiling and confident 45 minutes later.
Here’s an example of how this method worked with my DATA student (a doctoral candidate going through our dissertation and thesis program): the first day we met, he was relatively standoffish. He asked me what year I was in school and what I was studying. (I think he wanted me to be a graduate student studying English, or something.) But, I’m neither, so he seemed concerned. I accepted this challenge. Throughout our ten sessions, I identified opportunities with this student to assert my knowledge in a subtle way and to find common ground with him. When he’s getting the computer booted up, we talk politics, what’s going on that weekend, the weather, etc. (He even asked me to be his Facebook friend!) My DATA student taught me that half of every good consultation is building rapport (and if you can, relationships). In turn, you build trust.
This trust-building exercise, and thus, its role in establishing our credibility as tutors, is absolutely imperative for us to implement. We are in the business of helping and teaching, and if we are not fostering a positive, relationally-motivated learning environment, then what are we really doing?
All of us should take the time to assess how we respond to our most challenging sessions, no matter how long we’ve been tutoring. The best thing we can do for ourselves and our students is humbly accept that no, we never “arrive” as tutors, and there is always something new to learn. Here’s to taking the bad with the good in consulting – and to viewing tricky sessions as another chance to learn.
Popular posts from this blog
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
So, I was driving to school today and as always was listening to NPR (that's my self-promoting conversational piece informing you on how intelligent and connected I am) really, I just like the coverage on the campaign and "This American Life." Okay, I am already getting off topic and I haven't even gotten on topic yet. Anyhow, the story I was listening to was about a woman who used to be a part of the admissions committee at Dartmouth and is now working as an independent consultant helping students with the admissions process for schools. For a cool $40,000, she will work with you from 9th grade to graduation to help prepare you for your college admissions process. And for the budget price of $14,000, she will help you write and revise your college application essay. So, how in the world does this correlate to our world? Well, her work with college applications includes helping students decide on effective topics (staying away from "teen angst, or