Saturday, October 24, 2009

Put up the blame

Honestly, it takes a lot for me to get frustrated nowadays while in a tutoring session. Or at least, it takes a lot more than it would have taken several years ago. Most of my sessions are pretty straight forward though. I hardly seem to have any that on a whole are entirely frustrating--granted, there are those times when I have taken a session fifteen minutes before I have to leave for class or to go to my other job, only to find that the writing is twice as long as I suspected, but mainly it seems that those frustrating sessions are, for the most part, my fault.

I hate blaming fault on someone, but if it is going to be on anyone then it may as well be me. When I have quite a bit on my plate already what with full time classes and two (practically three) jobs, the length of fuse that it takes to set me off starts to get shorter. Thankfully, nothing serious has come out of it and nothing will (unless I have a very INCREDIBLY bad day, in which case I would go hide in a bathroom somewhere because it would most likely stem from getting my wisdom teeth ripped out), but it makes it seem that when those frustrating sessions come by, they end up frustrating because of me.

Sometimes I seriously think I have a speech impediment or something. I have trouble saying what I want to say. Writing it out I can do fine, sure, but that would take too long when trying to explain a grammar concept or ask a question about the writing. In which case I struggle to verbally express the ideas I want to get across to the tutee--which seems to rarely get out correctly the first time through. My tutoring sessions end up longer than most because I have to take the time to undo and reaffirm what I have said, and that only adds to the frustration for both me and the tutee when he or she cannot get what I am trying to explain.

I have gotten much better at it though--my tutees eventually understand what I try to explain to them (a lot faster than last year, probably thanks to this class), and sometimes it seems that taking the time to clarify only helps them further understand. In any case, that part of the tutoring session is less frustrating and stressful than last year.

Hmm, so what was I getting at...

I cannot quite think of a specific frustrating tutoring session except for perhaps the one I had a few weeks ago with a student from the Davis Campus. The main part that was frustrating was because he was so focused on only doing proofreading that he practically refused to listen to any other suggestions or questions I had concerning his method of organization or the assignment as a whole. Even though there were some obviously blaring organizational problems--the tutee had tried to use a format the professor had recommended in the compare and contrast paper, but it seemed like he had taken it too literally and many of the ideas were scattered and randomly placed.

But all he came for was to look at grammar. That was all. And that made the session extremely frustrating. I know that we as tutors are not supposed to "write the paper for them," but in this case the organization was so randomly scattered that I had to wonder what it was the professor said about it.

Oh well, at least he got the general idea. I think.


So far, the most frustrating tutoring experience has been when the couple of times the Davis Campus tutoring center has been inundated with tutees and I am the only writing tutor on duty. Catherine can also attest to the nature of these moments. (That name is okay, right?) The problem is multi-fold. First of all, there is only so much room in the Davis Campus Tutoring Center. There are only about five tables, and there is math tutoring also going on, so it is crowded. Second of all, I can only tutor one person at a time, so people are forced to wait. I hate making people wait. Third of all, if it is a big assignment, the tutoring session is longer, which means a longer wait. This increases everyone's frustration. It is hard to maintain a questioning guise when there are five or six tutees waiting. You just want to grab the pencil or pen and show them what to do. Then all of your training kicks in and you have to say no. I have to physically sit on my hands to keep from totally taking over in this situation. Frustrating? That barely begins to describe it. I almost have to pretend that it is just me and the tutee and focus all of my time and energy on that illusion. It can be exhausting. Maybe that's why I got swine flu.
However, as frustrating as this is, it is also some of the most rewarding time I have had. It feels really good to help ten or more tutees in one shift. Also, this is where I over hear things like, "I want her (points to me). She's an awesome tutor." Which is completely validating and an ego boost to boot. Who doesn't like an ego boost? I love them. (But I'm kind of self-involved.)
Even in the most frustrating situation, I still love what I do.
Yet, there is always at the back of my mind all of the work that I have to do for my own classes. It seems there are not enough hours in the day. Being laid up on the couch with the flu does not help at all, and in fact has put me even more behind. I feel like taking a nap every couple of hours and not doing much else. This has been frustrating. Especially when I have a 300+ page novel to read, a bunch of summaries, a presentation and three huge papers to write. I need some red bull and some valium stat. (There's that self-involvement again!)
Back to the original situation, it can sometimes be upsetting to try and make a student feel good when there are a bunch more waiting. I try and always be encouraging, but occasionally, I think I just make tutee's feel less than. I always try and let them know that I am a master's student, and I don't understand everything and that practice makes perfect. However, if you are the ninth or twelfth person I've seen that day, it might not sound so helpful.
The nice thing is that my bosses and I have been working with the professors to make sure we don't have these kinds of jam-ups. But, students are students and they will wait till the last minute, and we will be jammed. C'est la vie.

What is this frustrating session of which you speak?

Maybe I've just been really lucky. Maybe it's a fluke. Either way, I've not had a tutoring session that frustrated me.

Not one.

Granted, the Davis Campus Tutoring Center isn't all that busy (over the past week I've had 5 people) except right before a 955 class has an assignment due, but you'd think that I'd have had at least one unfortunate session!

The closest I've gotten to becoming frustrated was with a guy who'd written a compare and contrast essay on the two essays he teacher had asked them not to use. His paper was one page long, with about ten two-sentence paragraphs. The content was good and fairly well thought-out, but he'd just not written enough (about the subject he wasn't supposed to be writing about anyway). What irritated me about him was his attitude, though. He didn't care. I know him well, though, and he made me laugh so much during the session, I couldn't help but watch him walk away, feeling cheerful, even though his paper followed directions abysmally. thing that does bother me when I tutor is the fact that students come into a session having no idea what type of assignment they're supposed to be writing. Teachers have a responsibility to explain the type of assignment to their students, especially for 955 students. They are the developmental English classes!! They're not very good at writing papers and English, so teachers can't assume that everyone will understand what a "Compare and Contrast" essay is. That doesn't just apply to students in beginning classes. The average 2010 student has no understanding of what a "Rhetorical Analysis" is. Me? I understand, but only because I've taken linguistic classes and I know what "rhetoric" means and the different categories that it can fall under.

Yes, I'm an English Tutor, and yes, I'm willing to explain things to students, but seriously? I'm not here to do your job for you, Mrs. Whoever-you-are-that-tells-your-students-to-ask-the-tutor-what-a-compare-and-contrast-essay-is. If you look on the Weber State website, you'll see that "Tutoring" falls under "Academic Support Centers and Programs", not "Teach the Student so the Teacher Doesn't Have to!"

Maybe I'm exaggerating things a little (okay, maybe more than a little), but you did ask for my frustrations...

Honestly, is it too much to ask that the teachers explain what things are, or at least give a basic overview so that the student has at least heard of whatever it is I'm trying to explain?? Still, my job is to help the student and make them better writers, so when a student gives me the glassy-eyed stare at the first mention of "Compare and Contrast", I clench my jaw and get started explaining. Mrs. Whoever-you-are-that-tells-your-students-to-ask-the-tutor-what-a-compare-and-contrast-essay-is has struck again.

Define "Frustrating"

I have been wracking my brain all week about this blog topic: “What has been the most frustrating tutoring session.” I find there are little frustrations in every session, and the big problems aren’t that common. Besides, I find great satisfaction in surviving a horrendous experience, so “frustrating” is not a feeling I like to experience for long. “Frustration,” in my mind, implies a long-lasting feeling of helplessness, and I just don’t wait around long enough for that. How much time do we put into one session, anyway?

Do not get me wrong: I do care about what happens here in the Writing Center. Being a writing tutor is one of the most interesting jobs I have ever had. I love being able to make a positive change in the lives of other people. But I just have so much energy to spend on being frustrated, and I’m not going to waste it on the little stuff.

Real life – the stuff that happens outside of the writing center – is where actual frustration happens for me. I can work all I want to and my kids will still have autism, people I love will still lose their marriage, and I will still have those ten articles to read. Tutoring sessions just don’t pack the same punch.

In an effort to address the topic, at least in spirit, I will mention some of my more difficult tutoring sessions. One woman worked for more than an hour on her paper, then found out it didn’t fit the requirements for the assignment. Another woman, one who is learning English for educational purposes, wanted me to “fix” all her words to perfect English, even though I told her it all sounded better with her personal forms of expression. One man asked for help with grammar, then argued with me about my suggestions. The most embarrassing for me, though, was when I tutored a young woman who “seemed familiar,” then she turned out to be my son’s ex-girlfriend. Utah is “a small world after all.”

There are many challenges that do not frustrate me. Learning to understand the speech of someone from another country is interesting to me. I enjoy looking up elusive answers or asking other tutors for their opinions; it gives me an opportunity to learn something new. When people who have waited “forever” for their sessions express their angry feelings to me through words or body language, I get the chance to get to know them and try to make things better. That is something I like to do. I’m a mom – I fix things.

There was one online tutoring situation that did frustrate me, probably because I do like to be able to fix things. I could not fix this paper. It came in as a big block of misspelled mush. I gave the writer general advice on two major issues, creating paragraphs and writing complete sentences, but I couldn’t do more. I was crushed! I felt like I had let the student down. It weighed so heavily on me that I went and talked to Claire. I figured if I had messed up enough she would fire me and fix it herself. It wasn’t that bad. She reviewed what I had written, gave me a few suggestions for the situation, and let me know I did a good job. I could have curled up and cried with gratitude right there on the floor. It was such a relief to know I didn’t ruin anything! Claire’s advice helped me feel better about the situation. It also helped me to know what to do next time, so that particular frustration would not be an issue again. Talking to someone else really does help.

Thanks. Now I feel better.

A Reluctant Session

I don’t think that I’m going to have a problem writing five hundred words this week. I could rant and rave all day about my most frustrating and annoying tutoring session. Much of it had to do with the tutee, but the day also contributed to the stress of the situation. I think it was just a crappy day, and that I was at my wits end. Please enjoy as I take you through my journey of stress, irritation, and agony.

It was a late evening shift and Devon and I were in it for the long haul. The tutee walked through the door and it was decided that I would be the one to take the session. In retrospect, I think that rock, paper, scissors should have been instituted to decide who would take the session, but alas, it was not so, and I was designated to take it.

As soon as I looked at the paper I knew that it was going to be rough. A deep sense of despair filled my soul as I accepted my circumstances. We began. The paper was about a step-by-step process of doing something. I don’t remember what the process was. Indeed, I think that I have mentally blocked it out so that I never have to relive that experience.

One of the aggravating things was the way the tutee set the paper up. He decided that he didn’t want to “follow the norm.” His goal was to enhance the “flow” of the paper. To do this he decided that it would be best to tie in the ideas throughout. When he was writing about a specific step, he would bring up the next step before he finished the step he was on. Then he would go back to the first step. He figured that by doing this the paper would flow like a river. He was close…but instead it was a river of fire and death!

I tried to explain that for a paper about a step-by-step process it would probably be better to focus on one step at a time instead of trying out his new idea. I think he understood what I said, but then again maybe he didn’t because as soon as I told him this he went back to his idea about wanted to try and tie it all together in a nice little package…except it was a package of volatile explosives and pain!

It took a little while to help him understand but it eventually hit home. Again, I don’t know the exact mechanism that made this session so terrible. It could have been the time of day, the tutee’s reluctance to listen to reason, or the phase of the moon. All I know is that it was one of the craziest, most frustrating and annoying sessions I have ever had the “privilege” of participating in. Well, I hope you, the reader, enjoyed my blog post for the week and that you were able to pack on the subtle sarcasm contained therein.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Yeah, you're my friend, but I ain't writing your paper.

I really like begin a tutor! I feel good knowing I'm helping a student's writing experience by guiding them a bit. But being a tutor has its bad things at times. One of the worst things is when a friend takes advantage of your "skills." About three weeks ago, a person I considered (and still do) a friend came into my office asking if I could help her out with her English homework. I told her sure and I began to read her paper. From the beginning, I noticed there were grammatical errors in her paper. I didn't say anything at first and continued reading. I soon realized that my friend didn't put much thought into this paper. It wasn't the best three page English paper in history to say the least. I asked her what kind of assignment is it. She said it's supposed to be an opinion essay on why kids should learn a foreign language. I told her that we should read it together and go on from there. She looked at me and said that that's not what she wants to do. I told her I insist that we read it together. She said, with an attitude, that I was supposed to be helping her and that she was not going to write her paper again. I looked at her with this evil look. Just kidding. I sat there for a few seconds and thought about what she just said. I gathered my thoughts and told her, "OK. What do you want me to do with your paper then?" She said, "You're the English major. Fix it." I just smiled. I took a deep breath and told her that she is my friend but I will not sit down and write her paper. She said please and that we are friends, so we should help each other out. I told her we are friends but what you are asking me to do is plagiarism. She looked at me with a bizarre look and asked why am I being so uptight about this. I told her that I may seem uptight about this because I do not want to write someone else's paper. I let her know that it's wrong and that I personally have no time to rewrite someone else's paper. She looked at me for a second, probably thinking about smacking me in the face. But to my surprise, she said, "OK. I guess I'll have to rewrite some things." I told her to go re-read her paper, preferably out loud, and listen to what she has written. After that, come back and see me so we can work on it.

The moral of this story is that sometimes friendship can get in the way of your responsibility. This student still is my friend but I realized that she may have gotten too comfortable with me helping her out. She assumed since we are friends, it'd be cool for me to type up her corrections. She was waaaaaaaaay wrong. When I'm tutoring, I'm just like any other tutor. I still am Joel but when I tutor I am "Joel the tutor." I am going to try and keep it professional. There may be times when I may be a bit more relaxed,, especially if it's with one of my regular tutees. But I have not and will not write or rewrite some one's paper. Besides, if I wanted to make things fair, I'd ask those students who ask me to write or rewrite their paper to write my 20-page essay that's due next month. : )

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Pardon me, I can't be BOTHERED to read this paper for myself.

I’ve had several session in the past where either or I or the tutee has gotten a little frustrated or a little miffed, but none too bad. We were always able to work it out and move past our disagreement. That is, with all but one session…The tutee walked in and I asked him how he was doing. He said he was fine and that he was required to bring his paper in to get it tutored (big red flag went up in the back of my mind right then). He plopped his paper in front of me and proceeded to lay back in the seat and stare at me with a, “Well, get started!” look. I wasn’t about to begin playing that game (even though I hadn’t learned about the defensive minimalism or whatever it was that helps to deal with slightly antagonistic students), so I started asking him questions about his assignment. I asked him what subject he was writing about, and I received a vague “I don’t know really” answer. I asked him if he had his assignment sheet or what the assignment was, he didn’t have the sheet and he said he hadn’t really been paying attention when his teacher described it. He just knew that he was supposed to write a paper.
I tried to stop the inward groans as I said, “Okay, well, let’s just start. Would you like to read it out loud or should I?” He waved the paper toward me, and as I started reading out loud he promptly stopped paying attention to me and let his gaze wander around the room. In the second sentence I encountered a problem and tried to explain it to him, after I got his attention again, and he just nodded, said, “Okay,” and went back to staring around the room. With each explanation I gave, he seemed less interested, and even when I tried to comment on pieces I liked he would give me another sarcastic look or smug smile that simply infuriated me. I tried asking him more questions about what he meant and gave him simpler explanations of concepts he kept missing, and he seemed to be slowly falling asleep in his chair. When I was about a page from the end, I finally gave up and said that there would probably be the same problems throughout the rest of the paper and that he should take a look at them himself. I then gave him the paper saying I’d looked at his paper, and he darted out of the Writing Center. It took me at least 20 minutes to calm down after that. Luckily I didn’t have another session within that time period so I didn’t have the opportunity to lash out at anyone accidentally, but I was really ticked.
Of course, as the session went on I probably wasn’t the most pleasant of people to talk or listen to, but I still prickled that he’d not shown any interest or respect for the effort I was putting in to reading and explaining his paper. Most likely it was more effort than he’d spent in actually writing the darn thing. Also, if my spidey sense is correct, he more than likely did not do well on that paper anyway.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Dan it! I'm so frustrated!

My worst experience in the Writing Center… Hmm… That is kind of a hard prompt. Not that I have not had my far share of horrible tutoring sessions, but that is the reason it is hard. I have had a lot of pretty bad sessions. There has been nothing really crazy or over the top that I could rant on and on forever about. Mostly they have just been annoying and frustrating.

Just the other day had a tutee come in with a big stack of papers. Once we were settled I asked her what her assignment was. She told me that she had a bunch of questions that her professor had assigned her to go trough and answer each one. She was in a criminal justice class. There were ten pages of questions, and I was off in a half hour. Right off the bat I did not really know how to approach this session. I had never taken the class, and did not know the material. This was not a formal paper. From the teacher’s description of the assignment grammar did not matter. All she wanted was well thought out answers. The student was an ESL student, so I tried my best to help out with “grammar and stuff” to make her ideas more clear.

She was reading her answers to me and I was having I hard time understanding her. My lack of knowledge on the subject was not helping either. It started to get more frustrating when it started taken more than ten minutes per answer. I knew this session was going to never end. I pushed through. Then a question came up that I randomly knew the answer to. The student’s answer was incorrect. I did not know what to do. In the end I did not give her the answer for this many reasons: that is not my job, I am not the answer fairy, I am not a criminal justice tutor, and it just did not feel ok to me to fix it. I felt a little bad sending her away knowingly with a wrong answer. It did not take me that long to get over it. Also, she was wearing a large abundance of perfume. I could taste it. It was overwhelming. It hurt my throat and made it hard for me to talk. Frustrating.

Another one of my frustrating sessions was when I had a tutee that was in love with commas, yet she had no idea how to use them. It was like the example of someone who was taught to put a comma whenever you take a breath, and had a speech impediment. I could not even understand her paper it was so full of commas. I tried and tried to teach her comma rules, but it was not sinking in. It got to the point where I just had to tell her to go back and check everyone of her thousand commas and make sure they where correct. She also repeated her ideas so much. She was a really nice person, and I enjoyed talking with her. I just had a really frustrating time trying to comprehend and fix her paper.

I'm on the ball, finally, with a topic

I decided on the first day of class, after finding out I had to write a whopping fifteen pages for the bibliographic essay, I would begin right away. After I got over the initial shock of fifteen pages, I calmed down and firmly told myself I would write this monster of a paper now instead of waiting until Thanksgiving break to start thinking about it. Unfortunately, as I should have guessed, this did not happen. Here we are about halfway done with the semester, almost three months after deciding to start right away, and I do not have a topic in mind. I need to start looking at balls I would like to buy. Once I find a ball that looks interesting to me, I will consider buying it. When I finally pick out a ball I will start to look at the ball. After staring at the ball for several hours, if not days, I will proceed to get on in.

Topic ideas, topic ideas, topic ideas.

Too bad this paper is not one of those magical papers where the assigned topic is whatever I want. Those are the best. I would be more than happy to write a fifteen-page paper on The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, or even Twilight. The Twilight paper would be full of so much hatred it would make every teen bopper cry like a little child. Man, Twilight sucks.

Ok this has gone on long enough. It is time to sit down and buy a ball. Hmm… What in the writing center interests me enough to write about for fifteen pages? Oh! I found my ball! Hooray! Face to face sessions as opposed to online tutoring. Online tutoring was invented by Satan himself. This is a fact. I looked it up. Seriously. I am not kidding. The Devil is the person who came up with the idea. What other sinister being could come up with such a horrible thing? I cannot think of anyone else. Hitler is a close second, but he died a little bit before computers really hit their stride. So, Hitler is out. Satan is back in.

Yes, my paper will be on the differing opinions on online tutoring versus tutoring face to face. When it comes to online tutoring I will go over any type. Live session or OWL, it does not concern me. The entire online tutoring genre will be covered. The reason I say that online was thought of by Satan, aside from it being true, is because online tutoring sessions are a lot more difficult to handle. It is hard to articulate well thought up responses that are clear and will help the student to become a better writer. The one time I had a online live tutoring session it was no all that beneficial. The student’s response to everything was either, “cool” or “sounds good.” He did not offer any suggestions of his own. The session was very unproductive. Tutoring face to face is much better, and a lot more can be accomplished in a shorter amount of time.

Monday, October 19, 2009


What's the most frustrating tutoring experience you've had so far? Why was it frustrating? NO NAMES!!!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

In my short time as a tutor I have seen many people visit the writing center with various motives. Some were there of their own accord, seeking advice on how to better their writing. Some were there to use a computer. And some were there because it was part of their assignment, they were forced. In some of the latter instances students did not benefit from their writing center experience. This unfortunate result was because the student was unwilling to participate in the tutoring session. These students were just there for the grade. They never had any questions. They made notes on their paper only because of persistent insistence on my part and in some cases even argued with my suggestions. It was a pretty unnecessarily painful experience for both of us considering the tutoring session points were probably minimal compared to the total points of the assignment. Tutoring should not be this way.

On the other hand, I have seen those students who were forced to come to tutoring to fulfill a portion of an assignment and leave with a huge smile on their face, stating it had not been as bad as they had anticipated, and swearing to be back for their next assignment. This is everyone’s ideal tutoring experience. Having experienced these two situations myself, it makes me wonder whether or not the second scenario would be possible without the first.

If students were not at some point forced to come to tutoring would writing centers be a necessary part of Universities? Would students do as well on their writing assignments if writing centers did not exist? Would students be happier without assignments that forced them to visit the writing center? Would students who struggle with writing still come to the writing center if it was not assigned? And lastly, why should tutors be the ones receiving the brunt of the student’s frustration because they have to be in the writing center? These are some very intriguing questions that deserve further examination on my part.

For this reason I am considering doing my bibliographic essay on assigned tutoring and the issues that go along with it. In doing this project i hope to uncover the many sides of this difficult issue, and gain a greater understanding of the reasons writing centers function the way they do. Since this issue surfaces some of my most perplexing questions regarding tutoring, I hope to be able understand more fully the benefits of assigned tutoring. Hopefully understanding this issue better will allow me to appreciate these sessions, which will allow me to become a better tutor because these situations involve engaging reluctant writers.

I think that participating in tutoring should be the student’s choice, but since in this essay my opinion does not matter I hope to find plenty of information supporting my views as well as plenty of information that disproves them also. After all this is college, right? If students need help they should be responsible enough to seek it themselves, right? Perhaps this is not the case and therefore there is a huge need for required tutoring assignments.

My Mission

I wanted to start on my essay the second week of school. Obviously, this was nearly impossible with the responsibilities of my job. But I'm glad to say that I am ready to start on my essay.

I decided to go with distance learning and online tutoring as the topics of the paper. This week, I will begin to read as much as I can about online tutoring. It shouldn't be too tough to find good information on this subject. The tough thing will be to break things down and see what exactly to use in my paper. I'm not worried about the fact that I have to go up to 20 pages on this. I am worried that I am going to forget something extremely important on my paper. What if I forget to talk about an extremely key turning point in online tutoring? I worry but what can you do? Asi son las cosas. I'm sure I'll forget something but I'm going to do my best to get every important topic about online tutoring in my report.

With that being said, let me tell you how I feel about online tutoring: I don't buy. I'll be honest, I have never used online tutoring. I've never had to for any of my classes. I just don't buy the idea of typing in a question to someone you've never met and wait to see what he or she types. Personally, I want face-to-face interaction with my tutor. It's just not the same. I do realize that we are heading towards having online tutoring as a norm but come on, let's keep it real people. Maybe online tutoring is kind of like online dating: it works for some but not for most. I just think you gain more by having him or her next to you, showing you how (and why) to do what needs to be done.

I really don't have anything else to say on this subject. Besides, I want to save some of my other feelings on this subject for my paper. I plan on writing an editorial section towards the end of my essay stating how I feel about online tutoring. Maybe my thoughts about this subject will change after I read up about online tutoring. All in due time my friends.

We all have a month to go on this paper. I wish all of you good luck.


Swine Flu, or how I spent my week


I am asking a huge favor. Could you please keep me up on what's going on in class?
I am out by doctor's orders for the rest of the week because I have swine flu.

I'd really appreciate it and I'll bring treats next week.

Much thanks,

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