Thursday, September 03, 2015
As I reflect on what it means to be a tutor in a diverse and inclusive environment I continually come back to our responsibility as tutors to stand strongly in empathy with our writers. To me, this is about finding some way, any way, to connect with another through the experience of pure human existence. We are there to acknowledge writers’ lives, both their joys and their struggles, despite whatever differences may exist between us. Tutors are given a window into our writers’ worlds through their work. I’m struck by what a privilege that is! We are afforded the opportunity to know these people in often personal ways; through sharing their work writers may come to feel more confident in who they are or even to a greater understanding of themselves. As tutors we help others find their voice. That is a beautifully powerful thing. What creates the opportunity for that in any relationship is the presence of empathy. It is my hope that as tutors we take time to consider what that means for ourselves and how we engage with writers.
At the beginning of the week, when I first introduced myself to the peers I’d be training with, the first “fun fact” I revealed about myself is that I am shy. I clung to that shyness and never really wanted to dig too deep too soon. I was sharing, but there was limit imposed by my own usual uncertainties and insecurities.
It’s amazing how much can change in three days. During the final training session, it was very clear how far I had come along in letting go of my inhibitions, and how much my peers and I had bonded. These strangers were suddenly my allies, and I was sharing much more than I would have ever anticipated. We all reached much deeper understandings of each other and ourselves because of our newfound willingness to share without fear and to open ourselves up emotionally and intellectually to experiences other than our own.
I realized this simple process of opening up creates the tone and environment that is a critical part of successful tutoring. If both parties involved are willing to open up in order to unearth the fundamental components their own strengths, weaknesses, work practices, tendencies, and even histories, they will be able to overcome any academic obstacles as a team. Becoming a team involves digging deeper than what many have come to understand as the typical tutor-student relationship, and this training period at the Learning Studio gave me the brilliant change in perspective needed to make that possible.
Wednesday, September 02, 2015
On the surface, the job of a writing tutor is simple. We fix essays for students who need help and offer feedback to assist their future writing. However, this stereotype of tutoring comes from those who have never looked deeper into the relationship between tutor and student. When a student enters the writing center, they are welcoming the tutor into their experience of life. What is written on their paper is sacred. It's their thoughts, emotions, history, and potentially the safest place for them to be who they are. It's a humbling honor to be allowed to enter their world. We journey through their headspace to learn how their mind works. Students expose the deepest part of themselves to us, bravely allowing themselves to be vulnerable. We have the task of looking deeper within ourselves and at our own experiences to form questions that prompt the student to research their own story. If the student is most comfortable expressing who they are on paper, we are responsible for keeping that space safe for them, as well as making a safe space for conversation at our writing centers. Tutors are protectors, guardians for those who need shelter from their reality. We break down the walls of insecurity and maintain a space which generates creativity.
Tuesday, September 01, 2015
Training resumed today with another introduction of ourselves. We met Caroline today and we went on with our training with her through google chat. We opened up our session with a video of Ant Black talking about racism and oppression. The discussion that followed after was a good ice breaker for the topic. Everyone had different opinions and experiences with racism. As for my contribution to the discussion, I talked about my experience on how people assume things about me just because I'm Asian. People stereotype Asians as smart and are intelligent with Math. But in all honesty, Mathematics is the one subject that I don't excel in. It's a subject that I hate and always struggle with and people assume that I'm a "mathlete" because of my race. I get a lot of questions from different students asking for help in math. It usually starts with "Hey, you're Asian right? So you must be good in Math" or "Can you help with Math problems?". Since people are not really aware of my background, I don't allow myself to get caught up with the assumptions. I can't respond aggressively since people don't know me well besides the fact that I'm Asian. I respond in a calmer way but at the same time, very blunt about the topic. I have to consider the fact that we don't know everyone and people don't know anything about us. Approaching the situation calmly is the best way to handle the situation while at the same time educating others by reminding them that other people don't fit the stereotype that they have about the other person's race or that people shouldn't assume that fast.
After a day spent reflecting on creating a space where diversity is respected, encouraged and celebrated in the learning studio I continually find myself returning to the individual experience. Throughout the day my writing tutor peers and I shared our own reflections on racism both generally and within the context of the education system in which we are working. While we had varied, fresh perspectives on many points there were also many moments of commonality between us, especially in the value we place in these conversations and the importance of creating this environment in our roles as tutors.
For me, one contributes to creating a safe space for diversity by knowing your ‘stuff’– all the ideas, values, thoughts, beliefs, assumptions and hidden biases that have come to compose who you are as an individual. It’s about bringing awareness to how these things act as a lens through which you see the world so that, when need be, you can find another lens through which to look. By proceeding with that self-awareness in one hand and a heavy dose of openness and curiosity in the other I think a space can be created in the Learning Studio that feels safe and inclusive for our students and peers. By having the courage and honesty to bring your authentic self into relationship you invite the same from those you connect with. If we can bring these relational qualities of openness, curiosity, and acceptance into our work as writing tutors then we can help our students to use their creativity and amazingly unique perspectives as assets in their communication and writing.
As a school that openly embraces diversity and individuality, I was stunned and saddened to hear other students tell stories of the injustice regarding race in their departments. I addressed the dance center and the issues I've noticed about the way West African classes are valued as opposed to ballet and modern classes. We discussed the importance of immersing in a culture to learn its art, and the value of broadening our perspectives when learning new things. Relating this to the writing center, I think it's important to remember that everyone has a unique voice and way of expressing themselves on paper. To aid in their writing, we as tutors must let go of our ideas of writing. Though a student might not express themselves as we do, that does not mean they are wrong in any way. We have to immerse ourselves in the mindset of the student for them to positively benefit from our tutoring sessions, which are conversations that generate creativity and thought. Our job as tutors is to enhance a student's writing and their writing experience, not to change it.
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