Tuesday, December 04, 2012

"'People' is not a course at this university, young man!"

When I applied to be a Writing Center tutor I had what I would consider to be average expectations: In addition to learning more keenly the rules of grammar, my primary expectation was that I would refine my skills as a teacher.  I also expected to take home a fat paycheck twice weekly.  I must confess that, after a semester of attempting to do so via various forms of chicanery, treachery, and, let's face it, tomfoolery, I don't seem any closer to that goal than when I started.

What I found instead was something that I value a great deal more: An improved appreciation for the hopes, struggles, and striving of others.  In addition, to answer the first question of the prompt directly, my experience tutoring has improved my writing.  Simply put, metacognition is awesome.  Watching it in action has been rewarding, motivating, and, interestingly enough, humbling.

One of my favorite aspects of studying both literature and philosophy is that I can apply the lessons of each to myself.  There's no purpose in working out complex epistemological theories if we don't investigate our assumptions about our own knowledge.  Likewise, to observe the ostentation and abuses of the well-to-do in The Great Gatsby without considering how our own attitudes might coincide with their own (given the right circumstances) is to miss out on a valuable opportunity for personal growth.  In the same vein, learning about how I invent the university as I write, how revising the language I use to express my ideas is part of an act of self-revision, and about authoring myself instead of relying on the supposed authority of others have left lasting impressions on me.  Whether I have improved my writing or not I can't say--that's for others to judge.  But I can say with confidence that I have improved the way I look at my writing.  I am more aware of the questions I need to ask myself when reviewing my work.  In particular, I have always struggled with asserting my own convictions about my topic.  It is so much easier to simply fall into the rhythm of typical responses, academic jargon, and the pretense of objectivity.  Now that I'm more aware of the reasons why I fall into these rhythms, I have found myself experiencing a severe anxiety when I do so.  The moment my thesis or a paragraph dissembles into what-my-teacher-wants or language-patterns-of-my-discouse mumbo-jumbo, I can feel the cognitive dissonance eating its way up through my spine.

What's the point of this last paragraph?  As I said in the one before it, watching metacognition in action has been three things: rewarding because I have had an opportunity to grow in areas I value; motivating because I want to improve and see a previously unseen path to it; and humbling because--though I hate to admit it--I have watched freshmen exhibit metacognitive awareness that I, a senior, am just learning about.  I have felt the shame of my academic pretenses and ignorance.  And I want to do something about them.

I have worked with so many unique individuals who have endeared themselves to me unknowingly this semester, from the young lady who wept as I read her paper about her recently-deceased mother to the young man who couldn't help but improve between sessions to the middle-aged mother who timidly tried her hand at creative writing and discovered that she was powerful.  Working with these students, I realize that we share in a community.  These students have a voice--and I'm not talking about their writing, but about the character of their actions and personalities.  Their voices and mine are not condensable to academic accomplishments alone.  People build their communities by their contributions of language, behavior, and disposition, and the academic community is no different.  I feel that I have too long been a student of the university and not the campus and that my education is incomplete as a consequence.


Blogger Dwight A said...

Oh, yeah--I also learned a bunch of grammar stuff. It's pretty sweet.

12:24 AM  

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