Friday, September 09, 2005

You're not on the moon yet.

Realizing that our main job is to help people become better writers, I still think it okay if all we do is help them just get a better grade on their paper. I'll always do my best to rid a student of their apathy, but if they really don't care about writing and they just want to show their teacher they went to the Writing Center then this is also okay.

So far I've done my best to inspire students merely by showing them that I am interested in their work. I believe that if I project this attitude towards them, then they'll become engaged in the session with me. I'm trying to turn this into a conversation between the student and I about not just their paper but their style of writing. People like to talk about what they're trying to accomplish. They like people to listen to what their ideas are. They really do like this to be about them. And so I ask them about these things. I may not even give them the technical help they need in a given session. However, the student was allowed to express their ideas and hopes to someone who is really listening. That's what keeps people coming back for help.

As for the students who truly don't care about writing, I'll do what I can for them. But in many cases, it is only them that can discover whether or not they're passionate about writing. It cannot be contrived. Perhaps receiving a good grade on their paper is what makes them become more interested in writing.

I like to reflect on my own experiences in the Writing Center when I came in for help. My first draft of my first 2010 paper was atrocious. I really didn't think there was any hope for me and I wanted to drop my class. So I thought I'd give the Writing Center a shot. My tutor (I don't remember his name) was so effective at showing me what my paper was lacking and how I could turn it all around. He begged me for what my main argument was, helped organize my main points, and taught me the importance of a good consistent conclusion. Seriously, these were things my 2010 teacher wasn't telling our class and people seemed afraid to even ask.

In the end, I think I'll have to judge how to deal with a student's dispositon on a person by person basis. Give them candy or something.

Paper or Plastic?

I work at a grocery store as well as the Writing Center and there is a technique that I have learned that might be helpful with the apathy problem. (I really don't know if it will be or not, though.) At my other job, all types of people come it--- you couldn't imagine the weirdos, creeps and interesting people that come in, especially in the nights near midnight-ish. I'm a people-watcher so it is really is fun for me. But the trick is when I'm helping them, to sense their over-all personality, and it is done simply, by the way that they look or talk or even what expression they might convey. Some are regulars and they might recognize me, but even if they don't, it is critical that I try to find something about this person that I might be able to have in common with; this way, they can trust me with their groceries and allow me to do money transactions with them. I suppose other checkers don't find it so critical, but I like to serve happy customers. And I would like to help happy students!

So--- my technique is simple and I don't know if it will work while I am tutoring or not, I haven't tried it out yet--- and I don't know if it will work for others, but it only takes a second to look the person over, and decide how to approach them. Basically, I size up their attitude, and personality. It is kind of hard to explain, but somehow I decide the way to help customers know that I care and sincerely wish for them to have a nice day. Usually it is my voice, the tone in which I use to speak with them. And my tone varies depending on the type of person I am talking with.

I suppose that dealing with students who may not be particularly interested in what they are writing will be like this. I think that I will have to somehow show them that I care about what they are writing and hopefully my enthusiasm will rub off onto them. I will need to show them that I am a peer; I understand how stressful writing can be, and although less often for me than perhaps for the tuttee, I do sometimes don't feel like writing. It's a lot of work and it drains you. But the rewards and achievements are so numerous. I love the rush I get from finishing something witty that I wrote. (It's like on Lion King,”Mufasa! Mufasa! Say it again! It tingles!”)

I honestly do not think that apathy will be a problem for me--- hopefully. It really wasn't something that I had thought about. I guess my biggest worry about this topic is taking over the paper because I am really interested in it, even if the student isn't, and this is a big no-no! I shouldn't take over a session ever and as long as I am conscious of this no-no and I try to replace the apathy with at least tolerance if not the enthusiasm, then I think I should be fine. Maybe after words the tuttee will leave and be able to think, “you know this tutor kinda understands me and where I am coming from, and you know, she likes writing--- maybe I will too.”

I would write more about apathy, but I just don't care enough.

Apathy in a student makes a tutoring session awkward and frustrating. I tutored a few students today who were required to come into the Writing Center by their professors. Some of the students were willing to accept the help were interested in ways they could improve their writing. Others only wanted someone to look at their paper, make some marks, and sign something to prove that someone from the Writing Center looked at their paper. I think these students were surprised to find out that they were in for a tutoring session. I felt like I was going to have to make these students participate, so I handed them a pencil and asked them to read the paper out loud. I made sure to tell them what I thought they did well with the paper in an attempt to make them feel good enough to get them to care more about it. I don’t know if this worked, but at least they read their own paper and knew if they had done something well. But I know they probably still didn’t care about their writing.
When I try to help an apathetic student, I can’t help but feel a little apathetic myself. I feel like if a student doesn’t care about their writing, why should I? I have enough trouble caring about my own homework. But still, I want everyone to do well or at least want to do well. I guess I just have a hard time overcoming apathy in a student. It’s draining to put most of the effort into the tutoring session because a student doesn’t care and wants to LEAVE. It’s different than when a student wants help, but is nervous to speak up. I guess I just want everyone to put their full effort into their writing and have a genuine interest in improving (I’m not even like that, so what am I thinking?).
I’m not sure exactly how to encourage someone to care about their writing. I know that I can remain enthusiastic about it and I can give them positive feedback, but I still feel like they’re going to leave not caring about it. I had a hard time with this in my previous tutoring job, and I don’t feel like I came up with any consistently effective solutions. If anyone comes up with ideas as we get more into the semester, let me know.

PS Is anyone here also on MYSPACE? If you are, post your url.

I spoke on apathy and now I'm apathetic

I experienced my first tutoring session today. I think she was an ESL student. Nice. I like to talk to people who are learning a lot. I sat with her for a half an hour. She was taking the university orientation course and was required to come to the Writing Center for help.

It is interesting to realize how many of us think we are good at something of which we have limited knowledge or experience. Even the slightest understanding gives us false confidence in our abilities yet when it comes to things we actually know something about we falter and shrink away in fear, worrying that everyone will see our horrid imperfections. Mistakes are signatures for the devil and there is no way to redeem ourselves!

But I believe in redemption! And that is why we have the Writing Center. It is a place where we can walk in backward and upside down about our talents and abilities and walk out with those things straightened out a little bit more each time.

When we realize that we have goodness and talents and that we are not going to be the best we will ever be while we are still students, (hopefully) we realize that we have plenty to write about and plenty to discover. Isn't life only about discovery anyway? Over and over we learn the same things but hopefully from a new perspective. We look in the mirror each day and see a different person than we did the day before yet we see the same familiar person we've seen all our lives staring back at us. Like our writing we can look at our faces with all our experience written in jumbled, emotional jargon, or smooth coherency.

What does all this rambling have to do with apathy? I don't know, but I think while I sat with my tutee I did not feel apathetic and niether did she. I think that my interest in her and her abilities was strong enough for both of us today. Maybe sometimes all it takes is an eye and an ear and some paper to get something accomplished in the Writing Center.

One way to cure apathy.

Motivation is essential to creativity. Without motivation no meaningful art can be produced. Picasso painted Guernica because he wanted to show the world the horrors of war. Gandhi marched across India to protest British imperialism. Dante wrote his “Comedy” to criticize the injustices and corruption of 12th century Europe.

The student sitting across the table from you wrote his paper because his professor told him to.

While the parallel created between the last example and the previous ones is an exaggeration, there is a correlation between the amount of motivation and the quality of writing produced. In order to inspire better writing the tutor needs to find the motivation present in the student and exploit it in the writing process.

It is possible that the “apathetic” student in front of you does have at least a minimal desire to write, even if they are driven by something as simple as wanting a passing grade or money from his/her family. Maybe this motivation is slightly bigger and, to give a few examples, the student has a great interest sports, cars, religion, or politics. The trick for the tutor is to detect this motivation, draw it out of the student, and then transfer this energy into the student’s writing in a way that relates to the assignment.

One possible way for the tutor to use the energy that a student has for something and turn it to writing might come through a trick known as Behavior Momentum. In this practice the tutor finds out what the student’s desired activities are and then uses them to make the student comply in doing an undesirable task. When the tutor has built up enough enthusiasm about things the student likes, then the tutor can carry over that energy into the undesirable activity. Such a scenario might go as such:

TUTOR: “So you like cars? What kind of car do you have?”
STUDENT: “A 2005 McLauren.”
TUTOR: “Awesome! Where do you drive it around?”
STUDENT: “I drive it down the ‘vard and pick up compliant women with my homies.”
TUTOR: “Uh, cool. So what are you writing about in this paper?”

It may sound a little weird, but the enthusiasm that the person who you are talking to will carry over from talking about the things that person loves onto that which they hate. After you get the student’s attention focused toward the paper then all that is left to be done is to intermittently reinforce the student with positive comments about the writing. The rest of the work will be in their hands.

In this way the tutor can subtly ease the apathy out of the student.

The tutor must also be a model of enthusiasm for the student to see. If tutors are apathetic about their jobs and the writing process, then already apathetic students will follow suit. When tutors are interested in their jobs, and in what students are doing, then interest in writing on the part of the student will flourish.

Thursday, September 08, 2005


Certain things in life are contagious: the bubonic plague, the common cold, and enthusiasm. I plan to use my enthusiasm for the writing process as a means of fighting apathy. Don't get me wrong: enthusiasm is by no means a cure-all for the problem. I cannot make anyone be as enthusiastic as I am about writing. (Unless I somehow physically force them and I'm sure you can all imagine that, right?) However, I can communicate my love of this crazy process of putting words onto paper, moving them around, and cutting some of them out entirely (and doing all of this not just once, but multiple times!).

My first college composition professor introduced the class like this: "This is a GE. You all have to take it. Most of you don't care about it and I don't care about teaching it. So just do what I ask and you'll get a passing grade." Nobody I knew enjoyed attending that class. My second writing professor began like this: "I love to write and I hope I can help you to love it too. But if you don't, that's okay." I don't recall ever hearing students complain about that class.

Each professor communicated an attitude: one positive, one negative. And the students reacted accordingly. In a situation like this, Newton had it right: for every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction. I find it difficult to discount any topic that has the ability to throw my professor into a frenzy of excitement. On occasion, a student might watch an overly excited professor or tutor and think, Where can I get the drugs she's on? But more often than not, the student will watch the enthusiasm and think, Perhaps there may be something to this subject after all. A passive attitude does nothing to stop the apathy, but an enthusiastic attitude causes the apathetic person to realize that, if nothing else, it is possible for people to care about things. In my opinion, opening someone's eyes to the possibility alone causes a little bit of the apathy to drain away.

Over time, I have reconciled myself to a sad fact of life: no matter how much I enthuse, I can almost never make anybody love something to the extent I do. And I may not always be able to help them care, but I can help them understand why I care -- and that's a start.

so you want to flitter...

I've heard two opinions. One that it would be a wonderful thing for a tutor to fet tutored. It is something that will enable us to grow. The other opinion is that this would be a sad, sad thing. i agree with both to the extent a tutor should be able to do the structualizing, and most grammar/punctuation, and what have you. I think I would over need help with the stuff in the paragraghs linking it all together. Maybe, I don't know.
As for the title of this blog, I got really bored and I'm not suree fi I was on the clock or not, but I started playing Scrabble. I couldn't find all the letters I wanted to spell the word 'letters' so I spelt 'filters' instead. The next day was kinda slow, so Sam mentioned adding a word. I already did that. "Oh! flitters" What's sad is that I still didn't know how to spell filters until writing this blog. It just flowed from the tips of my fingers. It was a stroke of genious. I only wanted to filter out the bad stuff you might find in an essay.

Bloody Apathy!

I'm reminded of an ACT Math course I took during my senior year of high school. A student had asked how the concepts taught could possibly help him in his real life. The teacher then proceeded to give the typical answer: it'll help him get into college, which will then help him get a much better and higher paying job. I'm afraid I often over analyze things, but this experience certainly has made me consider education in a new light.

The first thing that it taught me was that I am, as I was then, truly in charge of my own education. That seems to be one of the biggest promoters of apathy: the thought, subconcious though it might seem to many, that one's educational pursuits are actually there simply to please a parent, a teacher, a girlfriend, etc.

Another large problem I see is that many students lack the proper perspective on their individual work, as well as their education at large. I see many students studying simply to survive a test so they can start studying for the next one.

Now, as a college student student I see quite a bit less apathy, to great degree I'd imagine, because college isn't free (a fact we are all far too aware of unfortunately). But still I see traces of it lingering, which materialize in some different ways.

Certainly students' papers will be a large indicator of the health of apathy on campus. And when I'm faced with an apathetic student I'd imagine it will be a challenge for me to hide my frustrations. However, I would hope that my approach would be kind, and assertive. I would probably use phrases like, "in writing everything is a choice," or, "when we write we create something that's been thrown at the Universe. It'll have to come back in some way at some time."

But other than these pep phrases I'll, hopefully, be able to create in the student a pride in his/her work, which might, given the proper stimuli, germinate into a true desire to succeed. A desire, which comes from personal motivation, and not from any of the multiplicity of foreign pressures that are placed upon all of us to produce results without true conviction.

Be Sneaky

The problem of apathy at the university is one that at first perplexed me, but then later encouraged me. Let me explain. There is a phrase that we often hear around campus when something goes wrong like, "Well, what do you expect? This is Weber State." I hear it very often as a janitor here on campus. At first I hated the thought that people would actually go through the trouble of registering, paying, getting financial aid, and then parking on campus to do something that they really don't want to do haunted me. Why would you do something like that? The part of this that bothered me was that I wanted a education that was competetive with the rest of the schools in the state and country and I didn't feel like apathetic students were going to help that any. However, realizing that Weber accepts just about everybody, motivated or not, I decided to take advantage of the opportunities available here that no one else was taking. Weber State, whether you believe it or not, is actually quite competetive with other schools in the sense that it offers tons of opportunities to its students. In the English Department alone there are so many things to do that you can easily fill your semester to overfull. So, I guess my point is to encourage everyone to get involved in all of the things that Weber offers. It's easy because no one else does.

Now, I have realized that no matter which school you go to there are going to be apathetic students. And while most of the students that come to the Writing Center actually want to be there and want to learn, occasionally we do receive the "student who doesn't care." My theory regarding these students is to figure out how much they are willing to participate in the session, and then relate writing to whatever it is they like to do. For example, if a student comes in and is obviously not interested in writing I may ask them if they have a job, play a sport, have a family or whatever, and then link their writing to that. Usually people like to talk about things they love. They also understand those things very thoroughly. So, link writing to what they love and suddenly they can tolerate it enough to give some kind of effort to the session and then to the paper.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to seeing other people's ideas regarding this because every student generally demands a unique approach.

I'm making this up...

Hello! I don't even know how this is actually going to look. I hope that it looks as spiffy as all of yours, but I doubt it. And I don't mean to sound pessimistic, although lately that is how I have been sounding anyway. I just mean that I have no idea what the heck I am doing, but here I go anyway. See? Here I am--- see me--- writing a Blog for the first time and not knowing what I am doing.

I suppose that is how it will be for me when I start tutoring. At least, that is probably how I will feel. I could just see it: someone comes in the writing center, similar to the description of Chris' tuttee- in his fantisy (if you read it; it was good)-- perhaps he is the same student coming in, and asking for my opinion or something, and he thinks that I know what I am doing--- maybe I even smile like I do know what I am doing, but really I don't! So what do I do? I make it up. Just like I am making up this blog, I will be making up how to do the tutoring. But I suppose that I must have some idea or I wouldn't have been chosen to be a writing tutor. Maybe I will have the courage to sit down and look at a paper and make intelligent (or at least clever sounding) advice and remarks. Hopefully when I start tutoring though, I will stop sounding so pessimistic. I know enough that that isn't a good idea. Could you just see me: "this paper is stupid; I don't want to read anymore. Can I go home?--- I'm hungry." I know that I am making this up, but at least I know enough to know that that is something I shouldn't say even if it is what I am thinking. On the other hand, heck, I might really get excited when tutoring. After all, I love to read and there is something so intriguing to me about writing.... it's neat.

fyi: this was written 09/06/05 I couldn't figure out how to post it until now.


Tyler summarizes Brett this way:

I think Brett raised a good question in his response when he asked, in effect, how do you help someone to care about what they are writing? There is no doubt that many students--I have also been guilty of this--simply write a sloppy paper with little thought besides getting credit for the assignment. Sometimes the most difficult task in helping somebody is breaking through their own apathy.

I wonder if you all might discuss apathy and writing and school? Have you experienced this? If so, why? More importantly, how would you handle a tutoring session with an apathetic student?

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

This is so pessimistic it's not worth reading.

Just so ya know I say y’all, ya, wanna, and other things like that. I say ‘it’ at the beginning and end of sentences. I also have a problem with the word 'just.' And talking valley girl is always a joke. I'm sure I'll disappoint many of you with my structure and other stuff. Oh, and I'm sorry if I ignore any of you ever. I'm shy and it's a defense mechanism, for reasons I'm not sure of yet.
I honestly don't remember how being a tutor came to be. And with everything in life, I HAVE DOUBTS. I've helped two so far. The first one went so smoothly it was scary. The second went terribly wrong. Claire said I did fine, and she and Jesse were there to help. But it was the obvious fact that I was struggling and needed help that really twists me the wrong way. Of course, Claire tried to cheer me up and all, but the failure sticks out. I hope the student walked away all right. Everyone else knew her and she knew I was a new tutor. I think she understood. I am so thankful for Jesse taking the first student that came in, but I would have taken it. Seeing her leave when her shift was over was depressing to me. I don't wanna have to rely on the seasoned tutors when I can't do my job. This is really great experience for me. I originally wanted to be an English teacher, but after this-- I don't know. I feel I'm making a mockery of the Writing Center and the tutors it staffs. But you guys are stuck with me until I'm fired or suddenly disappear. Three hours stuck with Ashley (just teasing :) was brutal. Ashley and I started working on flyers to promote the Center, and I think I'm better off an art major. Not really, but after a tense day you tend to think a little crazy. And just why oh why are all the cute boys married? Never mind. That doesn't matter. Schools more important. But that one guy that loves Jesus is so hot. Oh, I hardly have the books I need for my classes. No money. I know that's everyone's excuse, but tomorrow I'll be able to get my credit from Beat the Bookstore in CASH and buy the books I need. So just back off! Ha-ha kidding.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Can I talk about anything I want?

Cause if I can, then I want to talk about bicycles and bicycle security. I've heard as of late that people aren't even allowed to ride bikes on campus. I'm not sure if that's true or not. But what I do know is that there is only one bike rack that I know of on campus. You probably can ride bikes around but I wasn't sure since I've not seen any since I've been back this year.

I say, if the school is truly feeling guilty about bleeding us dry of cash (I'm referring partly to the new fee you must pay at the Dee Event Center and overall increased price of other parking permits), then they should at least throw in a few extra bike racks as a polite gesture for pauperizing us. I remember there was once one by the math building. See, that was a good one.

I hope to see more people riding bikes around anyway. Even if they do clip me on the sidewalks, I'm sure they'll take responsibility for it. In fact, I wanna see more bikes, scooters, skateboards, and those silly shoes with wheels built in them. Gotta get a pair of those....

Monday, September 05, 2005

Good point Brett

I think Brett raised a good question in his response when he asked, in effect, how do you help someone to care about what they are writing? There is no doubt that many students--I have also been guilty of this--simply write a sloppy paper with little thought besides getting credit for the assignment. Sometimes the most difficult task in helping somebody is breaking through their own apathy. A tutor--or teacher--, however, shouldn't feel responsible for inspiring each student to become an expert in a given field. Some care and some don't. Some will try, some won't. But, hopefully, a few will recognize the intrinsic as well as the practical value of writing instead of merely going for the grade.


It's been difficult to imagine what scenarios I may deal with as a tutor.

Firsthand, I feel I need to believe in my ability as a writer. I want to show confidence towards my tutee and make them feel like they're receiving professional and worthwhile help. I realize that I won't always have the answers for a student. But if I can at least help with just some of their issues, and make them feel better about the paper they're turning in, then I'll know it was a worthwhile experience for them.

Qualification and credibility is a huge concern for me. Will the student believe I have either? In truth, I am extremely self-concious about my writing. I'm even afraid of turning in this assignment (which to me is difficult). I can never stop scrutinizing and revising my work. And though I believe in my heart I am a good writer, does that necassarily mean I can help someone else with theirs? And everybody learns in different ways. I'm afraid that I can't have a singular method of tutoring. I must be clairvoyant and try to feel how each tutee learns and give them the best advice based on those feelings (and of course what needs to be done with their papers).

Above all, I'm most afraid of never inspiring anyone. I fantasize about how cool it'd be to get an apathetic, English-hating student who's just there because their teacher offered them extra credit if they went to the Writing Center. Then I think about how great it'd be if I could actually help them so much that they'd start getting ideas in their own head about how they're going to revise their paper, add new content, slice a bunch out, and maybe just start all over with a better outline. All because I inspired them and made them love writing.

It may never happen like that. But if I can't at least get people excited about writing every now and then, then I'm not a good tutor.

Blog Schplog

When I decided to become an English tutor for Student Support Services four years ago, I was most nervous about being intimidated by the student I was tutoring. I worried that if I was unsure of myself, they wouldn’t trust me, or that if I made too many suggestions, they’d feel self-conscious and dumb. But as I made it through my first few sessions, I realized that the people I was tutoring were grateful for the help and trusted most of my advice, even if I suggested they do something based only on my opinion. That’s not to say I never had anyone challenge what I said; there were plenty of times a student thought I might be wrong about a certain grammatical or organizational element, and we settled it by checking a reference book or asking someone with more experience. (These instances encouraged me because it showed that the student was thinking about the subject and was feeling confident enough to challenge what their tutor said.)
But with tutoring for SSS, I met with a student for an hour a couple of times each week for a full semester. That way, I got to know the student’s strengths and weaknesses with writing, and I was able to determine the best way information should be presented to them for complete understanding. I worked with the student through the entire writing process, from idea generating to final editing. I’m concerned about not being able to do all of these things with the Writing Center. My impression is that most of the students will be bringing in nearly-completed work and will only want help “fixing” it. I’ll have to quickly determine what the students most need help understanding and the best ways I should approach the situation. I don’t think I’ve been catching on as quickly as I would like to the problems with the sample papers we’ve discussed in class. Maybe I’m a little out of practice, or this is something I really need to improve what I already know. I want to help students in the most effective way I can, so I’m probably going to have to modify my current impressions of tutoring into something that is most suitable for the Writing Center’s procedures. I hope to see students coming in during the beginning stages of the writing process and making continual visits throughout their assignments. I expect there to be at least a few.
More than anything, I’m just excited to get back into tutoring because I enjoy it when I can help students not only improve their skills but also feel more confident with their writing. It’s a pleasure to see students go from dreading the subject to enjoying the writing process at least a little. Sometimes on campus, I still see some of the students I tutored, and we talk about what they’re doing academically and how their lives are going. I feel like that in being a tutor, I really got to make good connections with people. I hope to do the same at the Writing Center.

Spam Spam Spam Spam

Hi all.

I've changed the comments settings to be more restrictive. Hopefully this will cut down on the life insurance and plasma TV ads. Ugh.

A few concerns

Right now--the day before my first shift in the writing center--my biggest concerns are more practical than philosophical.

* How to begin. Does the student read the paper to me, or do I just take it and read it to myself?
* How do I work within the time allotted?
* What advice, if any, do I dare give?
* How far do I go? Should I recommend major substantive changes or just stick to the basics?
* What color of pen should I use, or should I use one at all?

Attention to detail is an important part of becoming a successful writer. A few mispelled words, a few grammatical errors, and a simple typo or two can alter the reader's opinion of both a paper and it's author. The power and message of a near-perfect paper can be lost due to simple oversights in detail.

I imagine the same principle is true with becoming a successful tutor. Attention to detail--not only in the papers we read, but in the way we conduct ourselves as tutors--will help students develop confidence and trust in our abilities and our suggestions. As a "rookie" tutor, I am concerned about getting lost in the detail and missing the big picture. Over time, however, I hope that the details of tutoring will come more naturally so that the big picture can always be front and center as it should be.

Do you honestly think I could outdo the previous fantastic titles?

Now it's my turn...

Did that catch your attention? I certainly hope so. I wanted to begin with something riveting so you would read my blog. In addition, this is my thesis statement: what concerns me most about tutoring another in writing is that so much of writing cannot be learned from a book, or from speech, or from the suggestions of another struggling writer. I know it's essential to teach grammar and mechanics or great ideas will die helplessly like a "compliment whispered in bad breath." But what you read above is precisely what frightens me the most: writing has become mathematics for many, and what lies beneath stays beneath because so much of expression falls behind our emphasis on structure.
But don't worry -- I don't feel up to delving too deeply into the purpose of writing. I could discuss women's rights and provide a sweeping attack on the theories of Immanuel Kant, but that too seems rather large for me. I think I'll just conclude (aha!) with a humble confession. I don't know what my most important suggestion will be when I read the perfect essay void of emotion. I suppose I'll learn in time.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

"Because I said so" and emotions somewhere over there, please . . .

“Because I said so.” Those were the four words I most hated to hear my parents say when I asked them “Why” or “Why not?” More than any other four words, I believe those are designed to drive people crazy because they are both an answer to end all answers and no answer at all. My biggest fear is that a student will come to me with a paper, ask me about something, listen attentively to my suggestions and ask “Why?” or “Why not?” -- at which point, my brain will crumble to pieces and the only response I will be able to provide will be those awful words. “Because I said so.” After all, when it comes to the companion arts of writing and revising, I am only a tutor -- a human, fallible being who will occasionally have to swallow her pride and say, "Let me do some research" and "I don't know, but it just seems right. I'll look into it before our next session and explain it then in as much detail as I can."

My other huge fear, as I said in class, is that a student will have a complete emotional breakdown in the middle of a tutoring session. I like to think I am good at befriending people, at listening to people, and at helping people. However, I hold no illusions about how well I handle people with emotional trauma. To put it simply: I have difficulty reacting to people who are crying. I am so bad at it, I do not know how to react to me when I am crying. I have learned that these are things not to do in that sort of situation: a) completely ignore the person's emotion, b) stare at the person without saying anything (and make the person squirm), and c) plunge on as though the person hasn't a care in the world when they obviously have at least a million and two. I will cross this bridge when I come to it and I will try to remember compassion above all else because I have been the person breaking down. We all have. And I know most of the time I just wanted someone to tell me everything would be okay in the end -- even if they were lying.

Oh -- and I was also scared I would have problems getting along with all of you. But I was able to banish that fear by 10:45 Tuesday morning.

A few comments and questions.

Before I began writing this piece I thought about what I was going to write, how I would write it, and finally, how many times I would be willing to revise it before publishing it. After I finish the first draft I’ll probably look over it about five times to check for any mistakes, and even then I probably won’t consider it done. Is doing this at all neurotic? Yes. Are these practices likely to result in “good writing?” Probably.

Whenever I write anything I go through a thorough process of planning, drafting, and revision. Most sentences have been looked at individually, and some words are even weighed for their particular potency. While most, if not all, tutors in the Writing Center could effectively argue that my writing is sub-par, the fact that this piece has been taken through most of the necessary motions is indelible.

The writing process that I have described so far is common knowledge for most tutors, but I am afraid that it will not be so for most of the Center’s tutees. Writing should be a process involving thought, originality, and above all, work ethic. This ethic is what separates the Stienbecks from the Steeles. What are the best methods for tutoring somebody who doesn’t want to work at their writing and craft their paper into something that does more than just meet their professor’s 750 word assignment on “anything that interests you?” How do you convince a tutee to care about those words that they are randomly blasting out onto the page?

I would like to shift the emphasis away from emergency triage and move it in the direction of neural surgery. As writing center tutors we should try harder than simply stopping the bleeding with band aids and cotton swabs. Let’s take out our scalpels. And lasers.

The validity of everything that I have written thus far hinges on yet another question that I have concerning our role as tutors. Are we writing coaches or writing repairmen? If the answer is that we fall into the latter category then I will have to re-evaluate my approach to this topic. Until this question is answered I will assume that we fit into the first. Perhaps the only one who can provide the answer is the tutee.

Another critical assumption that I am making right now is that I have the ability to take somebody’s paper and make it better than it was before they brought it to the Writing Center. I hope that I have this capacity but continually fret over the possibility that in making any such assumptions I am being presumptuous, elitist, and most importantly, wrong. Last week I laughed over some of the horrendous mistakes that other people had made but inside I remembered that I have made, and still make, the same messes. The only difference is that now, due to an ever-growing sense of self-consciousness and acute paranoia, I don’t let anybody see my foibles before I can fix them.