Thursday, October 11, 2012

What does "Emotional" mean anyway?

It seemed to me that in our class discussion, we seemed to only equate sad or downtrodden students to being "emotional." We briefly brought up students who are overly happy with what they have written, and I started to mention that I had a situation with a student who was hostile, but overall it seemed that our conversation revolved around students who were sad. I want to just take a minute to bring up the fact that there are other emotions that can really impact a session. The emotions that I feel I have witnessed the very most are stress and frustration.Students have stress over what the professor wants, stress about getting a paper done in time, stress about their personal life, and sometimes even stress about coming in to get tutored. I have definitely been in a position where uncertainty about a professor's expectations has caused me great distress, so I try to be sympathetic when this is the student's complaint. There have been a few particularly interesting sessions where I have felt that the student was there to vent more than to be  tutored. The sessions started out the same as usual, with me calling out the student's name and asking them where they would like to sit. That's where the normal ended. It was if making contact with the chair was a switch that turned the students on to vent mode. The student's would complain about how awful or unfair their professor was, about how stupid the assignment was, about getting cut off in traffic, etc... Most of the time I have been able to bring the student back into focus, but I remember a few instances where I could not fit a word in edgewise during a student's rant. Stress/ frustration is a very real emotion, and I understand that sometimes a person has got to just get everything out of their system so they can move forward, but it is not our role to be a therapist. Dealing with stressed out students can be really hard.

I'm thinking that the reason we talked about emotional writing mostly in the terms of people who are or who write about something sad is because that might be the hardest emotion to handle. It is uncomfortable for both tutor and tutee when a paper delves into deeply emotional subject matter, especially if crying occurs or if noticeable pain is evident on the student's face. I haven't had a whole lot of experiences where the student has been upset or cried in front of me, but I definitely have read some pretty heavy stuff. Personal narratives seem to be the usual source for sad material. When people talk about family members, best friends, pets, or lovers dying I really have a hard time knowing what to do. I'm naturally very sympathetic, and I know I maybe shouldn't, but I always try to express my condolences to the student. It just doesn't feel right to me to not say " I am so sorry" when someone loses a loved one, especially when that person is a random stranger who has trusted me to read their paper. That being said, I do know where the boundary lies. I try not to dwell on the sadness, and I quickly return back to tutoring.


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