Whenever I go into a tutoring session, I like to open up the thirty minute slot that I give students with a friendly introduction and a brief preface of how tutoring at the writing center works. I’ll usually follow this up with asking them their purpose for being at the writing center. I am fortunate enough to never really have monotony in answers, as the students that I work with have a wide spectrum of concerns in their assignments, even if I happen to work with nothing but students from a single class for an entire shift at work.
However, I notice that students aren’t always exactly clear with how they want me to help them, especially when we, as tutors, get into the busier parts of the semester. For the most part, days at the writing center don’t often get crowded, and the student to tutor ratio isn’t overwhelming. When times at the workplace are as such, it’s not as stressful, and you can often get a full and enriching experience with students. Lately, the front lobby where students wait to be seated has been filling up faster than usual, and being understaffed at our university’s writing center (from nearly twenty employees a year ago, to eight at the present moment) has been as easy as trying to understand why the meme “none pizza with left beef” exists.
The issue of students knowing what they need to work on, exactly, is one that presents itself more obviously in busier times, and those busier times… well, have been now, for the writing center tutors at the University of Texas Pan-American, soon to be known as UTRGV (University of Texas Rio Grande Valley).. Going from working with, about five, people on average on a weekday, to ten, creates a different, and more hectic, environment for tutors and students, as well as faculty, as our school readies itself for the arrival of the merger with Brownsville. Last Friday, for instance, there were only three tutors on the floor, as opposed to the six that worked the same shift earlier in the semester. Reasons for fewer employees on the work floor include: people finding new jobs, changing their shifts due to school, and, well, life just happening. Finding quality time to give each student that we worked with wasn’t as much of an issue as trying to make sure we got to everybody in time, but that’s not always the case.
Sometimes, you’ll find yourself wanting to go in-depth throughout a student’s paper, and when conflicts arise that get in the way of a full, high-quality session, you have to cut down on the content that you can elaborate on. In my own sessions, I like to cover a little bit of everything, but due to the aforementioned lack of tutors and higher student density at the writing center, I’ve had to put central focus on fewer issues than I usually do. When this occurs, I tend to frame the direction of the session around questions like “What is the primary thing that you’d like for me to work on with you today in your paper?” If a student can give me a straight answer, I’ll put all my effort into working on that specific problem with them. However, if I see another issue, I’ll identify it with the student, and recommend a follow-up session in which I, or another tutor, can help them out with their writing issues. If I’m not able to readily get a single answer from a student, I’ll try to put more of my focus on the introduction, some body sections, and conclusion, and see if I can help with those.
Sometimes, you have to trust your gut instinct and your experiences as a tutor to truly find how to get through condensed sessions on days that are full of traffic, though, and it’s up to you to decide, ultimately, what is best.
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