When I said I wanted to write something about being a nontraditional student, a fellow tutor asked, insightfully, what the term actually meant. So I looked it up.
According to our school’s website:
“ A non-traditional student [includes] any of the following: over age 25, married or partnered, having children, a veteran of a branch of the Armed Services, a student who works full-time, or a student who is enrolled part-time.”
Most nontraditional students started reading this like a checklist, not an “or” statement. 25, check. Married, check. Veteran, check plus. It’s almost a game of “do I fit more categories than you?” I probably do, by the way. I fit all except the last two, which usually come as a set, so I think they should be one item.
Think about that, though. When the school goes to offer services to groups of students, “nontraditionals” tend to count as one lump category, but a 22 year old mother, working full time, taking night classes has a completely different set of needs from the 30 year old single Marine veteran.
Of course, the writing center is in a unique position to meet even this diverse group one-on-one, as individuals. That’s powerful, in ways you may not realize. In a major university, the nontraditionals can get lost in the shuffle, their unique offerings undervalued. When they come to the writing center, though, they are exactly represented.
I don’t know what yours is like, but our writing center teaches us to treat each consultation separately, avoid getting into “paper mill” mode. You know what I mean, where the paper hits the desk and you’re on it immediately, looking for things to improve. At the end of the session, you know all about the paper, but have to double check the person’s name. We shouldn’t do that to anyone, but it can be doubly dangerous with nontraditionals. Odds are the nontraditional student is coming in for more than just term paper revisions. They already struggle with feeling like an inadequate member of the school. If the writing center looks like other programs on campus, where they’re technically allowed, but where they don’t actually fit, they probably won’t come back. If we can make nontraditionals feel like they’re the friend we’ve been hoping to meet all semester, I’d put money on them becoming a regular visitor.
The best part; this couldn’t be any easier. Start a conversation. Find a connection. Get to know everyone you tutor as much as reasonable. While you’re asking them about that essay prompt, ask where they’re from. In between talking about organization plans, talk about weekend plans. Using my examples from earlier, getting a mom to talk about her kids isn’t exactly pulling teeth, and that Marine veteran wants to tell you why Japan was the best country he ever visited. Chances are they’ll even have some hint of it in their work they bring in.
Remember, too, to embrace the differences that pop up. You won’t understand every obscure Bill Clinton sex joke, and they might have no idea what a vine video is (I just learned that one last semester). That’s ok. In fact, my point is that we make a place for these differences TO be ok.
So basically, when we see someone come in who doesn’t fit the usual mold, let’s make a real effort to make “them” feel like part of “us.” I know the writing center is up to the task, because it worked for this married thirty-something Veteran dad.
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.)
By Lori Brock
A Nearly Septuagenarian’s Ad ventures with Purdue Owl January 9, 2023 As a student, the Purdue Owl website was a source of great comfort for me. It seemed almost a tangible, billowy, yet safe and confining space; kind of like those bounce-houses filled with balls for kids. I would flit among MLA and APA and general writing tips: pulling up a sample reference page here, making sure I knew the difference between effect and affect there, and ended up by checking an in-text citation for a quote within a quote. I haven’t perused Purdue Owl’s website in some time, so, it is disconcerting to find it is completely tied into Purdue University’s writing lab. Now, you can also more readily access various sections of the style guide directly from the browser. If, for example, you want to check to cite a poster in APA format, Purdue Owl’s information is listed among the many sites you can choose in your browser. I can see how advantageous this fine-tuning is, and, in fact, I have already ma
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