Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Role of a Tutor

I had an experience recently where my expectations as a tutor were stressed a bit. I was working with an ESL student who didn’t quite understand what the Writing Center was. It was her first time working with a tutor, and she came in with the impression that I was there to fix all of her mistakes for her. I’m sure her instructor had told her something similar to “go to the Writing Center, they’ll help you with your paper.” What she heard was something more like “go and let the Writing Center polish your paper for you.”

As I sat down to begin the session, the student pushed the paper towards me and said, “you need to fix.” I felt perplexed but determined as I pushed the paper back in her direction and assured her that we could go over her paper together as part of a learning process. She then pushed it back towards me, said “yes, you fix,” and proceeded to text on her cell phone. She had obviously come in with a very specific request, and wasn’t concerned about the process it took for her paper to improve.

In the end, it took a little bit of maneuvering on my part to help her get the point. I ended up scooting a little bit closer to her and asking if it was ok if I read the paper out loud. I told her that she could make changes to her paper as I read, and I handed her a colored pencil. This was enough to show her what I expected and what she could expect from her future sessions.

The session went well after that, but it shows that a student can simply misunderstand what we do at the Writing Center. Many students have been told by faculty and peers that the Center will make their papers better. In reality, we are giving students the tools they need to improve their writing on their own. We don’t edit or proofread, but we point out patterns in order for a student to be able to self-edit his or her paper.

In regards to a student asking for proofreading help, I was faced with the challenge of explaining how impossible it is to proofread an unfinished paper. Her paper was a self-reflection that was supposed to be done in four parts. These parts were to be labeled with headings that related to different aspects of the reflection process. Unfortunately, this student had only written three of the four sections. I explained to her that it might be a good idea to work on finishing the paper before we worried about proofreading at all. She assured me that she had it covered, and asked me if I would look at what she had written so far. In the end I obliged, and left her to conclude her paper without my help. While this is what she wanted, I feel as if I should have been able to make her come around to my point of view. Since this experience, I have always tried to enforce the big-picture items. I would say that this is a lesson learned.


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