Writers, Tutors, and the Humanity That Exists Betweeen Them

           What do they need? Did I help? Did I give too much? Tutors often spin out with these questions and doubt themselves because there is much confusion on how to best help students or what qualities make a good tutor. Effective tutors possess empathy for tutees, focus on writers versus papers, model positive behaviors, and foster growth in students.

            In order to sense and understand what students need, tutors must first empathize with their tutees. By doing this, tutors can better understand what state of mind their tutees are in, and this allows assessment of what approach may be most beneficial. On a daily basis, anxiety, lack of confidence, and the complete shutdown of the overwhelmed brain enter our center. There are many reasons students that feel these ways. They may be experiencing problems outside of school. They may believe that they are bad writers because of the red pen culture that is so associated with education. Regardless of the reasons, tutors must first acknowledge these negative emotions and create an environment of comfort, which aids in neutralizing these. This can be as simple as using “I” statements, such as, “I hear you are frustrated,” or “I understand you are tired.” Once students are at ease, they may drop the fight and be more receptive to help.

            Tutors are humans who interact with other humans, not grammar machines who correct papers. So often, tutoring sessions are viewed as tasks to be completed instead of writers to be aided because the paper becomes the focus. Setting an intent to help the writer grow will change what is taught in the session. A worthwhile aspiration is to teach students that mistakes are a part of learning. Using examples such as Thomas Edison or the Wright Brothers, who failed many times before success, frequently conveys this point, leaving students inspired.  Also, tutors should see content before mechanics because what students have to say is far more important than how they say it.

            Tutors must remember that they are modeling behaviors for their students. If tutors are anxious, focus on perfecting mechanics over content, or any of the plethora of negative writing habits that exist, then students are likely to learn these behaviors. Remaining calm and gracefully conducting sessions shows students that writing does not have to be stressful. Listening fully to paragraphs before jumping in with corrections teaches writers to complete their thoughts versus second guessing themselves to the point of paralysis. Students respect and admire educators; therefore, tutors must set good examples.

            Students are writers in the process of growth. Being flexible and willing to make changes is a vital lesson for tutees to learn. The most important misconception that tutors debunk is that writing is a linear process with a clear finish line. Instead, it is a cyclical procedure that visits and revisits steps such as prewriting, drafting, and revising. In sessions where deficits in this process are noticed, tutors can choose to teach students practical methods such as brainstorming, outlining, and allowing the paper to settle before revising. If the true desire of tutors is to help students become better writers, then they will teach them how to do this versus doing it for the tutees.

            Writing is often viewed as an innate talent that people either have or do not have. Because of this, many students believe that they are bad writers when they merely need practice and education. Tutors who empathize with their students, focus on tutees before their work, model positive behaviors, and foster growth in writers are essential to the education community. Tutors are given a precious gift; each day tutors have the opportunity to support students as they learn to navigate the twists and turns that ultimately lead to adventure in this beautiful, fascinating world, known as composition.


  1. I love your essay Sara! Most people learn from failure.Failure teach us about our strengths and weaknesses, and the key of this is learning and practicing in order to become a good composer.

  2. I agree with you that one of the most important things we, as tutors, must do is identify negative thinking or behavior associated with student worth. Everyone has value and everyone has a story to tell. We must try to give students confidence.

  3. As I read this post, I found myself nodding in agreement. I completely relate from a tutee standpoint, which is the only perspective I have now. I haven’t actually sat in the tutor’s seat yet, although I’m looking forward to doing so, but it does cause me some angst. I can see how tutors could spin out as Sara suggests. Just like writing itself, navigating this new terrain of tutoring will require a certain skillset, reflection, evaluation, revision and practice.

    I’ve spent some time contemplating the peer reviews I did last semester and what I consistently noticed about other students’ writing. The most noticeable characteristic in student writing was not grammatical errors, which most student peer reviews focused on. Rather, it was actually a lack of following the instructor’s directions. I’m taking a guess here, but I believe that most students are actually better writers than they know—if they slowed down enough and took the time good writing requires.


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