Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Re-tweak of Blog 11: To Accommodate or Not to Accomodate: That is the Question

Blog 11: Is there another tutor in the house? Accommodating Past Cultural Difference/Shelley Williams/Engl 3840

This is a slight re-vamp of a former submission of this blog. This time I actually know what the prompt said. I really need to leave well enough, (or shot at enough) alone, but alas, it's only done when I say, no? I mostly changed the first paragraph if you've already read this one.

I have been fortunate in this regard, never having had to deal with a disgruntled or full-out irritated foreign student male in relation to his writing, or anything for that matter. Though I used to be a foreign student immigration advisor, a blatently disgruntled student whose problem I did not successfully address has simply never was my lot, though I had to make one accountable for irresponsible actions. It's not that different from what I do with their writing. It perhaps worked to my good that I became known as the “problem scenario” magnet. It thickened my skin without making me crack or become brittle and unfeeling.  My enhanced cultural sensitivity from that position came from my natural curiosity and mutual respect for another culture within the bounds of our culture, wherein they found themselves--ours.  But you don't have to have a foreign tutee on your hands to find you and your tutee are not speaking the same language. I can think of at least one good instance (for illustrative purposes) when for both my sake and the sake of the tutee, the request for me to be replaced had occurred due not to cultural difference but my inability that day, for whatever reason, to speak the same language as the student--the one needed to propel the student forward.


She came in semi-confident, semi-wary as a returning "mature" or non-trad student. She made it clear that she was new at this; didn't really understand what the teacher wanted; never liked English that much in high school; and finally, as the session wore on, gave me quizzical looks that indicated not only was I not reaching her either, but I was potentially making things worse.


It was at the beginning of spring semester 2013, my first semester tutoring for WSU.  I was struggling with 18 credits (several of which I changed to audits later). Although I felt I was so not hacking it again as a student, I felt I was setting the student at ease by telling her that I'd taught 1010 before, and that this was not going to be as bad as she thought. Because I was so busy "telling" versus showing her how easy it was, it became a labored session--both time-wise and emotionally, as in emotionally-draining--for us both.


Between not saying what I meant or wanted to say because I felt I already knew how to do that, I ended up feeling there wasn't anything I could have done to make the session go less smoothly by what was coming out of my mouth (I now know far less at all should have been exiting that source).  The only tool I didn't forget, mostly because I never didn't have this, was some modicum of self-deprecation or genuine humility in this case, sufficient to say that I was learning again too, being back in school with credits over my head and that I wasn't really explaining myself very well.  When in final and utter doubt, I always self-deprecate.  And sometimes that's useful. Though I think aiming for a middle mark of inspiring confidence by neither bragging nor over-commiserating would have been far better. Or, failing that, if a session starts to get off track and it becomes like a runaway train, for whatever reason, I would at least now not be afraid to ask for a second opinion from a fellow tutor by asking some pointed question to which he/she could respond to with wording that might enlighten the tutee in a way that my words have not as they just kept dimming the switch in the wrong direction.

I've learned that I can also switch tacks midstream too if my approach isn't working and am now more skilled at that. However, I'm sure the day will come when a completely derailed session will have to pass into other hands. Until that day, I'm learning how to avoid it in as many circumstances, with as many kinds of students as possible. Knock on wood.


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