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 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. 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 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 have successful and productive consultations, being assertive is absolutely necessary.
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By Lori Brock
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