Monday, September 09, 2013

Shelley Williams/Blog 2: Feelings, Fears, Fantasies for Fantastic Tutoring after First Time

Since I tutored last Spring semester, I am unable to recollect my first experience tutoring. I was not nervous then nor now though. I enjoy getting to have a view in on another’s life and heart by seeing what they’ve spilled onto the page. It’s an honor to get this opportunity. However, I do remember the first time I had to teach composition, versus tutor it, and my fears match some of the new tutors (feeling unqualified), but to summarize my own personal fears in my early teaching and Writing Center tutoring days, I was horrified at the fear of failure teaching and coaching students whom I did not look much older than at the time. Now, I have the opposite fear—that, at the other end of the “mature” student spectrum, students will consider my input irrelevant, dated, old-school, unnecessary.  But, that is not proving to be the case, or at least not in most cases. Furthermore, tutoring, as a one-n-one activity is more manageable in many ways than teaching a whole classroom of students whose minds are flitting about as fast as a Tweet.  In a tutoring session, I am only responsible to aid as best I can the one individual in front of me. So it is a walk in the park by comparison, and when the paper is well done, it’s more like a pleasant stroll through the park where you may notice only a gum wrapper lying on the sidewalk. Conversely, you may notice large wads of chewed  or used gum, put in inappropriately to a text, and that is where the job of the tutor gets sticky.

 Though the blogs don’t ask for advice per se, the advice I would give new tutor would be to learn to read the student’s capacity for positive and/or more constructive criticisms in addition to learning to read and assess a paper.  A tutor has to be able to feel out not only where and what level the student is coming from based on their writing, but also what level of tutoring and constructive criticism they can take. I will make no judgments about what has been come to be called the “me” generation, but let me say only that the sense of entitlement or its opposite, guilt or shame, over a writing student’s own imagined writing skill or lack thereof, are often the greatest roadblock in any given session.

I find if I can establish touch points of common experience with the student--praising, corroborating, reinforcing whenever possible, (but without over sympathizing), the tutee is pulled in immediately. My first two sessions of this semester were both that way. It would be easy to take these kinds of experiences for granted as how all students will be, but I know that’s not true, but it can become true more of the time as I improve as a tutor. As I or any tutor become a good student of students—watching and learning from them how they themselves best learn, assess, will listen, and digest--both by watching and by asking pointed questions and trying to tap the student’s ability to self-assess, I move closer to that goal of pulling all tutees into the magical world of good written communication. Though it’s cliché, it’s the ole’ “Teach a man to fish . . . “ adage. Though I have only cast a few times this semester, so far it’s been very pleasant and the fish are biting.


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