Friday, October 12, 2012

The Good, the Bad, and the Seriously Ugly

Emotional students can be one of the most difficult things to have to deal with in the Writing Center. For every few "normal" session, you'll have an exhaustingly emotional one. Whether the tutee ends up crying all over their paper or punching a hole in the wall, you're there to help them write the best paper they can. As much as some of us want to be, we're no more psychiatrists than we are editors.

It can be incredibly draining to have to ride an emotional roller coaster, as anyone who's dated someone with mental illness can tell you. Now, that's not to say that emotional tutees are defective in some way, even though some may very well be. Tutoring an emotional student can be very much like dating or, alternatively, just being around someone who is mentally unstable. Both are needy, the extent of which depends on their current mental state, and neither are necessarily trying to ruin your day. In many situations, they just can't help it. It's not their fault that they start crying at the mention of their father or that they get upset about a confusing task. On the flip side, there are times when they can be emotional for seemingly no reason. It's very hard to judge what will set someone off, whether they're just an emotional human being or they have some sort of disorder. You just have to try your best to help them out in any way you can, while still maintaining your distance to a certain extent.

The mental illness connection might seem like a bit of a stretch, but I think that anybody who's been in a situation like that knows what I'm talking about. You want to help, and sometimes you're successful, but there's nothing wrong with removing yourself from a potentially harmful situation. If the tutee is getting far too emotional, as is often the case with angry tutees, you're not abandoning them by suggesting they come back a different time or by breaking things off entirely. Sometimes there's nothing you can do to help someone and, as terrible as it may seem, you have yourself to think about.

With all that being said, when you find yourself dealing with an emotional tutee, it's up to your discretion whether or not to continue the session. Sometimes you can calm the tutee down and get to work, or sometimes you may need to just wait the storm out and occupy yourself with what you're going to talk about when it's over. There's also nothing wrong with trying to comfort a tutee, especially if they're stressed out about the assignment and just need someone to tell them they're not going as poorly as they think. A reassuring hand on the shoulder might be all they need to get them refocused and able to work through their paper. Just, please, for the love of all that is good and holy, don't touch their elbow. Nobody needs that.


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