The Importance of Being Both A Tutor And A Learner

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 of the unknown tainted my experiences. The worry I felt extended to my first college essay. I was in English 101 and eager to prove myself worthy in my college career. The only issue was that I had dyslexia. I’ve always loved reading and writing, despite the fact that engaging in either has been a battle. Every essay I’d written up to that point, I needed to spend late nights looking over with my Mom in the hopes to catch all of the little errors my brain could not notice on its own. So, when I heard about the university’s Writing Center, I knew I had to check it out. Unlike my co-workers, I did not have a choice. I needed a tutor. In my mind, the only way to make the best piece of writing I could, was to have someone else look over it with me. So, I did. The tutor I had, gave me the tools I needed to approach essay writing on my own. On that day, I learned the benefit of tutoring. Throughout that year, I continued to seek out the help of peer tutors. My first experience in the Writing Center was as a learner and I think that was for the best. It allowed me to not only improve my writing but also to begin my tutoring journey the same way my learners do. I know what it is like to be a freshman wandering into the Writing Center. That knowledge is invaluable. Of course, my first experience in the Writing Center was long before I even dreamed of becoming a tutor.

For so long, becoming a tutor seemed unattainable. At the time, my dyslexia left me with too many weaknesses and too little expertise. I am glad I did not let my youthful fear hamper my journey when a position to become a writing tutor was offered. The training I was given really helped me prepare and hone my skills. During the training, I recognized many of the strategies that had been used on me when I came to the Writing Center as a learner. It felt like taking apart a pen for the first time, unscrewing the tip, and pulling out the spring and ink cartridge to see how something I had only known on the surface level worked on the inside. Already having been tutored by other consultants, I had some background knowledge that I found invaluable. I spent my few first semesters getting used to tutoring. I found my own footing, but unfortunately, I felt my style began to grow stale. I needed to spice it up, so I went back to where our story started; the Writing Center, with an essay in hand. While working with the other consultants, I recognized some strategies I often used when I was a tutor. Not only that, but I also noticed tutors using strategies I had never thought of. I found myself doing what any good education major does when faced with a superior technique, I stole them and made them my own. Going to tutoring allowed me to continue to hone my own skills. One of my favorite education professors once told me that one of the best ways to build my teaching toolbox is to spend time in other people’s classrooms. The same can be said with tutoring. The best way to build my tutoring repertoire is to be a learner. Life-long learning is about more than just learning new things. It is also about honing existing skills by looking at them through different lenses. 

I want to be a learner for the rest of my life. This sentiment goes hand in hand with my wish to educate until my hair grays. In my mind, I can only be a teacher if I am also a student. While I am a tutor, I will always be a learner. When meeting with other consultants I can improve both my writing and tutoring skills. I know intimately what it is like for my learners to bring in writing that bares their souls to me. It is for this reason that I urge every writing tutor to bring in an essay, poem, or short story to their Writing Center at least once. A great tutor needs to know what it is like to be a learner.


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