Thursday, October 18, 2012


I had a student come into the writing center with a paper that recounted her experience of losing her fiancé. He had gotten in a tragic car accident that day they got engaged. It was very emotional. She provided details of his car accident that actually made me feel sick to my stomach. Scenes of blood and gore filled the pages of her essay. Organization was not an issue because she had clear transitions and followed a sequential time order which made it easy for me to follow her story. But seriously, why would someone want to share a story like that with a developmental English class? She had trouble with comma splices, fragments, and run-on sentences, but they were hard to get to because I felt in some respects that by helping her fix her paper I was, in a way, distorting her memory of the event. She wanted to do several stylistic sentences that would have been acceptable in a creative writing class but not in developmental English class. For example, she wanted to do one word sentences to emphasis a certain point. Words like “heartbroken” and “shock” acted as interjections. Also, several exclamation points were used to acknowledge the severity of her shock and heartbrokenness which is understandable.
In my head, I jumped ahead a few moves (like on a chessboard). I visualized myself trying to explain to her that in academic writing exclamation points are rarely if ever used. In my head, I imagined her countering by asking how to show the appropriate amount of sorrow if exclamation points were off limits. And this is where we delved into a hypothetically uncomfortable part of the session. I told her she might want to consider, for her next paper, a less personal subject. She whined and said the professor encouraged them to pick something to write about that they feel passionate about. I told her that that was absolutely true and that I could see where she was coming from, but feeling passionate about a certain event or occurrence in your life does not necessarily constitute a good paper topic. I could see we had gotten off track so I returned to the present moment where I was about to correct her exclamation point usage.
I suggested that she shy away from exclamation points in academic writing. She said, “Okay” and we moved on.       
I an uber sensitive person and I actually chocked up a few times while reading her paper, but I covered my emotions with a few well-placed coughs and grunts. I could not stop internalizing her experience. I kept picturing my husband in a terrible car crash. That would have been a totally appropriate response had this been a creative writing piece. But it wasn’t. I needed to do my best to keep myself alert and responsive to the paper so I could pick up on errors and help this girl learn grammatical concepts she obviously was not yet familiar with. Though I smiled and helped her to fix her comma-splices, run-ons, and fragments, inside I continued to question why she would want to write, for all to read and hear, about such a tragic personal experience. I wish I would have tutored this session after we discussed it in class be1cause I would have definitely brought of the free counseling services WSU offers to students.  


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