Friday, September 21, 2012

Liquid Cement

    Somewhere along the line, the job description of what a writing tutor is gets lost in translation. We are not editors, despite every fiber of our collective being telling us to fix any and all grammatical mistakes we come across. Our job is to sit down with the student, look over their paper, and discus the grander details while mentioning more minor problems like grammar along the way. It is harder for some of us than others, and I often find myself obsessing over a single train wreck of a sentence when the whole paper is falling apart around me. And many tutees encourage this. Time after time after sitting down with a student, they will assure the tutor that they only want help with commas and the mystical, vaguely defined concept of “flow”. They want an editor, but writing tutors aren’t editors. As much as we love to get hung up on the little things, our job is to sit a tutee down and teach them something. Something that, with luck, will make them better writers in the end.

    Of course, there are those tutees that are impossible to get through to. Some go so far as to completely ignore anything not related to simple grammatical errors. They bring an essay that is in ruins and, before the tutor even gets a chance to look it over, the tutee assures them that they just want want someone to make sure they are using commas correctly. “My writing is good,” they say, sure that what they just handed off to the poor, unsuspecting tutor is straight Dickens, “it’s the commas I’m worried about. Does it flow well, you think?” And, of course, it doesn’t flow well. Reading their essay is like trying to suck liquid cement through a bendy straw.

    With all that's going on in a tutees head, it's understandable that they might be a little confused. However, the tutors are there to teach them, not to be their editors. As much as we want to tear your paper to shreds, fixing every conceivable mistake, it's much more beneficial to everyone involved if we instead spend the time teaching the tutee how to fix their own writing. Teach a man to fish, and all that jazz. It can be annoying, sometimes downright migraine inducing, but this is the job. This is what we, as writing tutors, are here for. Anybody can point out mistakes in a paper, but it takes a special breed of person to have the patience required to work through absolutely abysmal writing with the writer and show them through the process.


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