Thursday, September 08, 2011

A Constant Learning Experience

The most profound thing I have noticed since starting work this semester is Weber State students’ thirst for success. The vast majority of the students I have tutored have been very warm and receptive, and very eager to learn and to become better writers. Unlike students at some expensive, private, posh university, students here are grateful for a school that admits them openly, takes their unique needs into consideration, and gives them a second chance to get a valuable education.

I knew Weber State was a largely nontraditional college, but in my short time tutoring, I have helped a young recent high school graduate, a veteran fresh off eight years of service, a middle aged woman who started but never finished college, and a grandmother who had always wanted to earn a degree but never had the opportunity to go to school. It is amazing to me how their different perspectives enrich our college and enrich us—the tutors—who read their often heart-felt papers and learn from them as much as they learn from us.

The different life experiences people have at WSU often result in some amazing papers. Often, I have been amazed at the power with which so many of our tutees write. They are tremendous writers, who often lack only the confidence. It must be said, though, that for us tutors, these profoundly powerful papers often pose a tremendous challenge. I will explain.

A few days ago, I had a student who had written a “permission letter” to her mother. In it, she asked her mom to allow the family to put her in an assisted living home. Without going into specifics, I will say that I could sense the writer’s pain and her concern for her mother. The writer trusted me—a stranger—enough to share such a personal issue with me. I felt honored by this trust. The challenge, however, was to address things like grammar and organization. How do reduce such a powerful work to punctuation marks and “fanboys”?

This was a very sensitive issue for me, and I am glad that I had looked at a similar OWL with Claire, who gave me a good idea of how to approach something like this, namely by acknowledging the very personal and painful nature of the paper, and tactfully transitioning to talking about the paper’s mechanics.

The students here bring fresh and diverse ways of looking at the world, and it is a joy to be a part of their lives, even if only in a small way. I have found that if you treat people with dignity and respect, they feel welcomed and are more willing to open up and to discuss their work without fear. This, in turn, makes it easier for us to work with people and to help them become better writers and better help-seekers. There is a certain stigma that comes along with getting tutored, but we can change that perception and help people feel like their coming into the Writing Center is a sign of intelligence and a mark of success.


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