Thursday, March 15, 2018

Once Upon a Time, There Was a Rapid-fire Client and a Confused Consultant...

As tutors, we want to do our best to help other students improve their writing. And normally, we expect a client to come in with one piece of writing they want to focus on – but what do you do if they have too many? I once had a client that initially told me she wanted to work on a short story for her creative writing class. Since I didn’t see creative writing come through very often, I was excited to help her with her story. Until, that is, three paragraphs into reading it together, she stopped reading and pulled up an unfinished poem. I was a little confused at first, but allowed her to explain what the poem was about, and just as I asked her what she wanted help with, she pulled up yet another poem. This continued a few times before I realized she was just pitching story ideas to me and we weren’t actually talking about her writing. She seemed so excited, and I wanted to help her with whatever she needed help with, but it’s hard to help when the writing in question keeps changing. In an attempt to refocus the consultation, I asked if we could look at her short story again, since she said it was for a class and the poems weren’t, but she kept showing me different stories and poems and I didn’t know what to do. I left the consultation feeling like I hadn’t done anything to help her. 
Looking back on it, I know exactly what I should have done instead of just letting my client jump between pieces. When I tried to get her to focus on just one piece, I wasn’t being very assertive and made it sound like more of a suggestion than a solid request. When I asked, we would go back to the story for a minute, but as soon as I tried to ask her about the actual writing would she switch back to a poem. I didn’t realize it at the time, but in situations like this, it’s important as a tutor to understand your role. My problem was that I didn’t take initiative in that consultation - I should have asserted myself and told her to pick just one of all her writing pieces, because it was impossible to help her with every poem she was writing in the short space of our half an hour consultation. In that moment, I needed to tell her that though the fact that she writes poems outside of school was great, she needed to pick one thing to work on and could schedule other appointments to work on other individual pieces. As a tutor, my role was to make sure that this client was able to get legitimate help and further understand the writing process, and during that consultation I failed to do that due to my lack of assertiveness. 
Sometimes as a consultant that's typically more introverted and passive like myself, it's easy to accidentally let a distracted client take the wheel and not know how to get back on track. In this case, as tutors, we have to learn to assert ourselves, and make sure the student we're helping knows what we're there to do. It can be tough to tell a client not to do something during a consultation, especially when you're afraid of offending them or hurting their feelings, but in order to have successful and productive consultations, being assertive is absolutely necessary. 

Monday, March 05, 2018

Confidence is Key

As a student manager of the writing center, I assist in leading training meetings. At the beginning of the year, I had to run a quick errand as the meeting started. By myself, I couldn’t stop thinking about standing before all my peers, especially without the support from the prior year’s managers. The concept of having forty-some eyes on me was so nerve-wracking that my hands shook. When I joined the other managers at the front of the room, speaking clearly and confidently, I calmed down, proving to myself that I was capable.

Peer tutoring fosters growth, and not just for those being tutored.

I’ve been friendly but shy my whole life, making few friends and keeping my head down. I came into the writing center as that person, quiet and insecure. Part of the writing center training was how to interact with the client, how to ask questions instead of answering, minimalist versus directive consulting, the delicate ratio of listening and speaking. However, the real training was the on-the-job experience. I learned quickly that part of my role as a consultant was to be outgoing. I had to greet my client in an enthusiastic but approachable manner, providing a comforting first impression. In consultations, I learned to establish a safe environment for my clients, allowing them to relax and share their work. The writing center theory was valuable, yet it was the experience of being shy with shy clients that made me a consultant. To draw them out of their shells, I couldn’t have my own.

Coming out of my shell was freeing. With the combination of training and experience, my self-doubt diminished. I went into every consultation with the surety that I could make a difference for the client. This surety made a difference for myself. I became so in love with the feeling of confidence, of self-accomplishment, as well as the friendly relationships I established with everyone around me. The writing center was a refuge in my tumultuous life. After a year and some change as a consultant, I applied to be a student manager. It’s been difficult at times, but as someone who also loves behind-the-scenes work, it’s been rewarding.

Consulting has given me so much in interpersonal skills. Knowing how to be an active listener as well as being approachable is a benefit in my personal life. I’ve also been able to manipulate body language- where to sit during consultations, how to open up and be engaged. I’ve also learned a lot about being in the moment. There’s only so much time in consultations, and many of my clients, I don’t see again. I have to make the most of my half-hour with them, working as hard as I can to help them.

I’ve gained so much confidence in myself from the writing center. I’m confident in my work here, so I can be confident in my work in other areas of my life.

Your Written Voice Matters: Embracing Writing Language against the Standards of the Academy

In consultations as a tutor, I notice students struggle with their own written language based on the demands of the academy. Many students e...