Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Blog 5: Over-emotionality in Tutees: Finding the “Ayes” in Their “I” Along with the Tears in Their Eyes/Shelley Williams

Always running the risk of being overly emotional or empathetic, I tend to get highly involved in each paper, no matter how gut- or heart-wrenching the topic. But, I lean toward using the emotionality to further engage the student by indicating that no one else can tell this story from their particular perspective but they themselves, and so they have a responsibility to themselves and to their audience to portray it as closely as they experienced it as possible (within reason if the paper has potentially offensive material; in which case tutors can steer towards more acceptable ways to get across the same idea in a more academically appropriate way).

It’s interesting, but though I can remember several times when students started reading their papers aloud and the material was very emotional and they began to choke up (at which point I have offered to read aloud for them or semi-silently), and though I usually remember the relative skill of a student to tell a story on the page, I cannot remember any specific scenarios or stories that have caused these tears. Every story is hopefully important enough to a student that it became the topic of their paper whether it elicits tears or not. Me forgetting, I hope means I am acting in the moment to what students are presenting (both on the page and with their emotionality) and then, like a teacher needs to, letting it go after the session has ended and noting progress should I see them again later.

Just like tutoring unfamiliar material, I always try to capitalize on my unfamiliarity with the story or the cause of the over-emotionality. Playing dumb has some real advantages at times, and this is one of those times. By this I do not mean a cold, “I don’t get it” approach, but some kind of response that demonstrates “I sense this experience must have been really hard for you. Here’s where you made that difficulty really clear, and here’s a place where there’s an opportunity for you to do that again, going further.”

That’s just an example of how I would ideally like to be sensitive and yet productive and not mired in the emotionality itself.  I do often follow up with students who have such papers, especially those who I believe can really make something profound of their papers, by saying that if I see them again, I’d love to hear how their paper was received (and graded). This is both encouraging for them as well as reinforcing or enlightening for me on whether I am being successful in my suggestions to them and whether or not students are being enabled to make good use of said suggestions.

As for how I might recommend to other tutors how to deal with overly emotional students, I would encourage them to use the emotionality and any empathy they may feel to always be channeled and focused back on the paper and to highlight where the paper is succeeding in capitalizing on the emotional nature of the topic or the tutee’s reaction to it as well as where the paper could be strengthened for even greater effect. I’d suggest letting students know that tear-jerking papers means the emotional appeal and/or way they are telling their story, is reaching the reader(s) and commanding attention, and that that is one of the things successful writing does. Embarrassment thereby is disallowed from entering the equation for producing a good result or from devolving into sidetracking off topic, potentially ensnaring the tutor, tutee or both, in an unneeded or inappropriate therapy or rant session.


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