Saturday, November 16, 2013

What is a student? (Blog 12)

I understand that some graduate students as having a better knowledge of the learning process. While in some respects that may be true, I also know that my style of learning is specific to me. I know that I am great at memorization, outlines, and can focus during long lectures. However, this is clearly not representative of the common college student as proven by our discussions in class and with our respective tutees. While those traits may make me a decent graduate student, it would be foolish of me to go into my own classroom and assume that all my students will process information as I do. Although this week's prompt asks me to reflect on how tutoring has shaped me as a student, I fear that I wouldn't have much to say on that topic. I am pretty set in my current learning strategies and they work quite well for me. However, tutoring has forever altered how I will conduct myself as an instructor.

During my undergrad, I always seemed to gravitate towards teachers that were known as hard-asses. They were infamous for pushing their students to the absolute brink of sanity. Whether the mechanism be essays (quantity or length), exams, or presentations, each of my favorite professors had a knack for getting poor reviews on In fact, my favorite history professor had a penchant for convincing me to write essays on the most impossible topics - Bronze Age Danish gender roles, anyone? I knew that, despite my questionable sanity in preferring these teachers, they always seemed to pull my absolute best work out of me. While that is a definitely plus in my mind, I also remember how other students in the class would shut down instead of rising to the challenge. While I initially viewed these students as lazy, I have learned that they were non-responsive to the one-sided style of teaching employed by the professor.

Being a tutor has given me great insight on how people learn in a variety of subjects. There are learning styles, unforeseen obstacles, and meta-cognitive aspects that need to be taken into considering when understanding how individuals learn best. It has changed how I will approach my future 1010 students. I will understand why some students latch on to the material immediately and run with it. I will understand why students will only understand about 50% of what I am saying. Lastly, I will also understand why some students will just struggle to understand just 1/4 of the information that I will present. In understanding these issues, I will be better equipped to address their concerns and try to help them in the best way I know how.

However, we have also been taught that the most effective forms of teaching are those that allow the teachers to learn from their students. As someone who has committed themselves to academia, I self-identify as a lifelong learner and look forward to being able to interact with and learn from my students. My style of learning and life experience are not "par for the course" - this goes for everyone else. As such, I believe that tutoring has opened my eyes to the variety of college student experiences and how those experiences alter the overarching classification of "student."

Cultural attitudes towards sex in the Writing Center

This is another topic that I have not personally had problems with in the WC, but have been hearing about from coworkers. There is always a fine line to walk when it comes to the cultural beliefs of others, so is it fair for tutors to stop sessions when a tutee does something offensive? Is it fair for a tutee to expect that tutors put their own beliefs aside? It is a difficult situation that I have no real answers for.
When I was teaching in Japan, I had several students that were very vocal in their (from my cultural perspective) sexism. It was mostly older men that believed women were biologically incapable to work in management positions. Several of them actually used the archaic "medical" term "hysterical". Not the modern usage, but the old school "anyone with a uterus is subject to random bouts of madness" form of the word. I was in a bit  of a bind- do I ignore this cultural stance that is strongly against my own views or put them in their place? I took the middle road in these situations and explained that in America and many western nations that older view of women's capabilities is no longer culturally acceptable. Instead of saying it is wrong (although it really is) I just pointed it out as a cultural difference that they should be careful about in business dealings with westerners. Is it my place to tell them how off-putting their misogyny is? No, but I can discuss how the cultural difference in views can be problematic.
I had a Japanese tutee come in with a paper about sexism, but he was taking a stand against the cultural norms of his elders. His paper was about gender segregation in Japanese workplaces, and we had a great conversation about personal experiences with this problem. I have seen his progressive attitude in many younger Japanese people, so it is clear that there is change happening. I only wonder, is the change from realizing that sexism is wrong or is it from merely aping other cultures?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Blog 12

When I came to Weber State University, I had heard some pretty horrible things. “You’re going to Weber State? Mine as well just go to Salt Lake City Community College. You’d get a better education there.” I never thought anything of it and knew that Weber State University had my major, Interpersonal Communications. It’s a very specific major that isn’t offered at very many schools. Upon arriving here I began planning out my next 3 years of college. I love English, so I knew I wanted to be an English minor, but as I began figuring out what classes I needed to take I realized that with a communications major and an English minor I would be just a couple of credits away from having two majors. I decided to forego the minor and duel major.

            As I explained this to one of my friends who had been attending Weber State for some time know he informed me that I should try to get a job in the writing center. This was a week into the semester, and I thought it would be impossible, but I figured what would it hurt? I began tutoring, and at first struggled.  I was curious what I could do to accomplish work and school and then it hit me, why do they have to be inseparable.  Work was part of school and if I apply the principals I learn in the tutoring class, and in tutoring sessions, then I could be a better student. It also stood true for the other side, if I apply those things I’m learning in class to my tutoring session than I can be a better tutor.

            This changed the way I look at school. Before I became a tutor I thought of school as a game. You follow the rules the teacher sets for you, and you’ll get to the end and win. Your award is simply a piece of paper that says you have won the game of education. But now, I am able to have a better understanding of this “game.” Students aren't necessarily in to get a piece of paper, but they are trying to find themselves. Students come from all walks of lives, and each one is in college for a different reason. Student, as a universal term, fails. We are individuals with a similar end site, but very different goals. We are math students, English students, philosophy students, etc., but we are all STUDENTS. Once I recognized this, I realized how hard it must be for a teacher to differentiate between the students’ cultures.

            After starting this job I am glad that I am attending Weber State University. Those horrible comments I had been previously told were so far from the truth. Weber State, and any university for that matter, is a great place for a student to learn. School is a great place for a student to find out who they are. Education is a major role in an individual’s life and that opportunity to be a “student” completely changes a person.


Cultural barriers.

I didn't think that I would have any insight on this  topic, until I encountered a male student from Saudi Arabia a few days ago. The session was going fine for the first 30 minutes or so, until I came across an error in his paper regarding the information he provided. His paper was to analyze three different religions and compare them. He chose Lutheranism, Islamic and Mormonism. I didn't know much about Islamic and Lutheranism, so I didn't have enough insight on those particular topics. However, when I came across his section on Mormonism I found some mistakes. First, he stated that the Mormon religion believed in the trinity. Second, he refused to call Joseph Smith a prophet. I politely explained to him that the Mormons did not believe in the trinity, and that they believed that God, the Son and the Holy Ghost  were separate entities. He refused to believe me, and said that he got his information from Wikipedia and that I was wrong. I explained to him that I was not a member of  the Mormon church, but I had been surrounded by it my whole life and that they truly did not believe in the trinity. He kept dismissing my statements, thinking that I was not as reliable as Wikipedia. I politely said that Wikipedia is not always correct and is subjected to the opinions and ideas of others. Still, he did not believe me. Also, he refused to acknowledge Joseph Smith as a prophet because he did not believe in the Mormon church. I explained to him that if he included the prophets in the other religions he should include the Mormon prophet, to avoid biases. Still, he was not responsive. I couldn't help but wonder what his reaction would have been if he had a male tutor. He seemed to dismiss any input I provided on the content of his paper. Eventually, after explaining the churches influence in my upbringing, he softened his tone a bit and was slightly more responsive to my input. We finally were able to agree that he would check his information for accuracy. Although this was a fair compromise it still irked me. There would be no need for him to check his information if he would have just listened to me. However, I understood that it was important for him to gain the knowledge on his own, versus just taking me at my word.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

How Has Being A Tutor Affected Me as A Student

            I have learned a lot about writing since I became a tutor. As I delve into students’ papers and works of the masters, I can appreciate both how much I know about writing as well as how much I do not know. I feel confident in my own writing, yet I’m much more prone to mistrust my first instinct, as I am still overcoming some bad writing habits. I no longer have any reservations when it comes to offering feedback on any piece of literature, and I notice grammar issues wherever I go.
            Tutoring is one of those things that I think is good, but have not yet learned to use myself. I have considered taking one of my own papers in to the writing center, but I feel a sense of pride when it comes to actually receiving feedback on my own work by my fellow tutors. I guess in some ways it has made me a better writer, but as I’m thinking about it, being a tutor myself might be holding me back in some ways. There’s no doubt I could benefit from some help with some aspects of my writing, but because I know “the tricks of the trade,” I’m hesitant to request help.
            Hmmm… I should work on that. I’m thinking that my last observation will be one that I do when I bring in my own paper, don’t tell the master tutor who I am, and get feedback on something. I think this would be a good exercise for me as a tutor as well as a writer.
            Another thing it has done is made me a grammar Nazi. I don’t mean when it comes to speaking to my friends or family, rather when it comes to commercials, movies, pop songs, etc. I don’t claim to be the master of these things either, but I do notice when people make a mistake.
            I think being a tutor has been both good and bad for me as a writer. Good because I understand more about the mechanics of English and can write better papers on my own; bad because I am over-confident in my abilities and not likely to seek out help where I would probably benefit from it. Writing this blog has brought this to my attention, however, and I am only writing this blog because I am a tutor, so there’s still time!

            Honestly, I think I am in a better place now than where I was before I became a tutor. Sure, I’m a little more stressed with the extra work hours and class, but I have learned a lot about what it takes to write well as well as what it takes to be a teacher. Since that is my dream, I am grateful for the tutoring I have received as I have worked as a tutor. 

Diversity and Culture Clashing

I haven’t run into the issue of having to address cultural differences in regards to male/female interactions. I understand that in many middle-eastern cultures, women tend to be expected to be subservient to men. Often times, this subservience has religious undertones to justify its practice within the culture. That being said, in American culture, if we want to speak broadly, encourages individuality and independence among all genders. I can see the tension that these cultural differences may produce, but I also think that it is necessary for us to set the example of gender equality no matter the discomfort it causes. Change can be uncomfortable, but that doesn’t make it bad.

I have dealt with this cultural trait, in a limited manner, in my service overseas. While deployed to Iraq, our female soldiers were required to cover their hair while working within the local population. Accordingly, our male soldiers were required to speak only to the men unless contact with the Iraqi women was unavoidable. My unit made a compromise that they felt would encourage stability among the local populace in our area of operation. It was an attempt on the Army’s part to show that its soldiers were sensitive to cultural differences, that they were willing to adapt their own cultural norms to accommodate the cultural majority they were dealing with. I give this example because it shows the opposite end of the spectrum. It shows that when you visit a new country with unfamiliar norms and standards, it is not uncommon for you to have to adapt, somewhat, to those standards.

As writing tutors, it is our job to do everything in our ability to make our tutees feel comfortable and at ease. Unfortunately, it is not within our ability to change our genders. A tutee does not have the right to make us feel inadequate based on his or her cultural understanding of gender norms. The tutee does have the right, however, to request a different tutor if he or she is uncomfortable. This goes for every tutee, not just those from other countries. So, while I feel that those students who are uncomfortable being tutored by women should take the opportunity to challenge their perceptions, I also understand that change is not easy, nor is it comfortable. I only hope that we, as peers, can set good examples of diversity and equality and hope that others follow suite.

Tutoring Reluctant Students

Let's face it: we all have to deal with students who don't really want to be in the writing center. And, let's face it: we can relate to that. So, what can we do when students don't really want to be going over their essay with you?

Well, the first thing that we need to remember is that if the student isn't paying attention, our efforts are wasted. We are not there to do their homework for them, and that includes filling out a brown slip. The student needs to earn that. If they aren't going to listen or try to understand what we're saying, we can explain that to them, and suggest that we reschedule if need be. That happens, and it's okay.

That should never be our first resort, however. We should try to engage the student as a human being and try to help them feel excited about their subject matter, if nothing else. Passion for revising the paper will come by itself if we can help students realize that they really do have something meaningful to say about the topic.

I feel like we are going to see more and more of this kind of thing as the end of the semester approaches and students burn out, so what can we do about it? Well, as hard as it may be, we need to try and not burn out ourselves. The students will reflect our own attitude back at us, so we need to be energetic and friendly. The more comfortable we make the tutoring environment the more likely the students will be to respond in a positive way.

Tutoring students that don't want to hear what you have to say is hard enough, but what about students who don't want to hear it because they think they don't need to improve their writing? Well, all we can do is try, but it helps if we talk about what the paper is doing to the reader rather than what the writer has done incorrectly.

At the end of the day, it's the student's loss if they don't accept the help we offer them, and in some cases it may be appropriate to express that fact. There is a lot we can do to help students with their papers, even when they don't want to hear what you have to say. It's important to be patient and sympathetic, but most of all, it's important to be human. Relate to the tutee! You've had hard days too! You've been asked to do things by teachers that you didn't want to do at the time, but you've seen how those things have helped you develop and grow, so let the students know those things! Remember, a machine can never replace human feedback when it comes to writing, which means that we don't want robot tutors!

Have fun, help the student do the same, and remember: be human!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Blog 11: Seriously, It is Almost 2014.

I should have known that this topic would have come up sooner or later. Well, thankfully, I have not had any sessions where tutees have actively voiced their reluctance or dissatisfaction being tutored by me, but being the realist that I am, I am sure it has been thought about before or after the session. Because I am Black and a woman, I sort of get hit with the double whammy here. It is HIGHLY irritating when people point out my race passive aggressively during a session (like I had one tutee bring in a paper on slavery and told me that “It was perfect I got you because I know you will know all about this”). Needless to say, I wanted to leave the session right then and there, but I have grown to be more tolerant of ignorance. And, I have gotten looks from the tutees when an OA has told them that I will be tutoring them, but once we settle down and being conversing, they seem to take to me quite well.
Because sexism or racism is not a religion (honestly, there is a thin line there though, sadly), each gets treated differently. If an international student practiced a religion that put women on a lower pedestal than men, his or her discomfort to be tutored by me is understandable to me. If a student, born and raised in America, were to do the same, whether it was due to my race or sex, I would say the same thing. Hypothetically, I would be more willing to accommodate, respect, and accept a foreign student’s discomfort being tutored by a woman because it is a religious belief rather than a Southerner from the segregated South being uncomfortable being tutored by someone Black because it is philosophical belief.
However, the students in both situations need to get over it. Seriously, it is almost 2014.
The way American society treats international students’ expectations of women needs to be strictly consistent with the way we handle national people who are sexist or racist. It just should not be tolerated because most places that people go will have men and women and different races of people, especially educational institutions. If they truly have a problem with being tutored by someone “inferior” to them, they should seek help in places where other idiots…I mean people are “superior” like them.

Of course, we should respect any student’s wishes when we are servicing them, but it is unethical and unfair for the tutors of our Writing Center, and anywhere else, to feel like they are less than capable to handle a session, or anything else, because of what they are and not who they are. Our tutors are from different walks of life, but we are all quite capable to do our job; otherwise, Claire would not have hired us. So, what I am is a Black woman, but who I am is a capable human willing to help another human succeed. We should encourage students to be open-minded and tolerant of differences, which is what I am currently doing for my preschoolers. How ironic. 

Highly Belated Blog 1: Whose Afraid of Virgin Tutees?/ Shelley Williams/Fall 2013/

My Blog 1, Blog 2, and ultimately my first reflection/response are all mish-mashed in my head and somewhat in my written musings, and I thought I had submitted this (and likely did in the wrong location and format), but my Canvas is showing no grade for it. So, I now return to my guttural response of what I am/was most afraid of with tutoring. It is not each session, nor was it first sessions, but rather personal outcomes that I am most afraid of—both the students’ and my own.

I want them and me to get the most out of tutoring as possible. That’s my bottom line. To elaborate, I’m (or was) most afraid of not learning enough in this course to make the course, my tutoring time and experience fruitful in the long run.  I know the answer now to address that fear.  I’ve learned a monton—that’s Spanish slang for a lot, a heapload, a boatload .  Critically, this monton has been about myself, my learning and tutoring/teaching style and how I can enhance these; this monton has led me to decide to change my major to a more relevant one—Spanish teaching (Ogden City School District is nearly 50% Latino), and/or ESL, or I am even entertaining a second M.A. in Educational Leadership and Policy, which could prove a better fit since I love being in a higher education setting and have not as yet been able to break into the public school system outright, even with an ARL and teaching certificate in hand.

So, perhaps it is serendipity/province that I was unsuccessful in submitting this blog properly the first times(s) because I can and do now address my own initial concerns.  Though I have made this journey before at a writing center, have done tutoring, and have taught 1010 composition (actually, I did both those things concurrently), have an advanced degree, I am still kept up at night at times by having little to show for it as compared with others (peers) with the same degree. I met such a person at the Rocky Mountain Peer Tutoring Conference. He is now the Writing Center Director of Dixie State University, an institution I attended right out of high school because I didn’t want to be a number, but a name, a name I know I have not made for myself in the world, such as it is.  I only lasted a school year there at Dixie, and barely that before I landed several semesters at Weber State, including an intensive block English program summer.   I look back now and see all my education as stepping stones, and indeed, my education is the one thing no one can take away from me.  I may lose jobs by restructure/RIF, I may be holed up as a starving poet/part-time philosopher in some relative’s basement or worse, but I know how to learn, and I know enough about something that I have the great opportunity of tutoring students who are beginning their writing journeys even as I muddle in the middle of mine.  Mine will not be done until I take my last breath. 

Though I realize to leave my blog somewhat as it was will be nurturing my tendency to use the blogs as therapy, to retain my honest first response, which is what a blog and generating text should be, and that first response included the fact that I am kept up at night also by fearing that I have less in common with the young tutors and students than I did in days past.   But, alas, this does not mean I am not learning—that common goal of us all in this course, and of all peer tutors, and of all students.  I am a student again, but I am also a tutor, and deep in my heart, I am still a wanna-be teacher. ‘Nuff said.  This is my edited blog ending; what follows below was part of my first-response version. You can read on if you like, or abandon ship at this point). That’s the beauty of writing and reading—it’s re-doable, editable, and done only when you decide it’s done.


Bottom line: Will it have been worth it after all, when I am a pinned and wriggling insect on a wall at the end? (My time spent on T.S. Elliot starts to show here). Students, the professor of every course, this one included, and I, all evaluate me in every present moment (when we’re not preoccupied with ourselves alone). That assessing, constant assessing, is part of academia and part of life. What worries or concerns me is whether, to be cliché, I’ll cut the mustard, yes, but also whether, even doing so sufficiently well, what gain this will win me in a long-term employment vein? Though I love learning for its own sake and with it, gleaning hopefully some wisdom, which I think is possible from every tutor/tutee exchange, I suppose I long for the old American dream even if tinged with the new American reality—i.e., if not a house, 2.5 children, a dog and/or cat, at least the ability to be self-sufficient again. As the old Jiffy Lube commercials used to say, “We don’t want to change the world, we just want to change your oil.” I’d settle for the latter, but I know in so saying I am indeed settling because I know that writing and writing well, has the power to change the world. The power of the pen is (or can be) mightier than the sword.  So far, my wielding of the pen and helping others wield it, has been more self-transforming than world changing, but the world is made up of individual souls, and so, I must be content with whatever I gain or give, in the course of this course and through my tutoring running its semester’s course.

Tutor Replacement: A Cultural Disservice (Blog 11)

I really appreciate that we get to discuss this issue in the blog. I recently had a less than fortunate encounter with one of the male Saudi exchange students.

The assignment was to craft a business proposal for a product that you would appreciate incorporated into the practices of a particular business. While I am not, nor have I ever been, a business student, I am the daughter of a business owner and have spent most of my life surrounded by the jargon  I was confident that I could help him clean up his writing and explain any inconsistencies that I, as the reader, perceived.

However, I noticed very early on that his writing was quite choppy but not anything out of the ordinary for an ESL student. So, I began to address with him some of the language issues present in his paper.  He had seemed a little reserved since he sat down but, as I addressed some of his writing problems, he began to get more vocal and a bit aggressive. I had not really had any issues with the Saudi students all semester – most were very nice to me. Regardless, I continued the session and acted as I would with any other student. We had reached the middle of his proposal and had hit a language barrier issue. I kept asking questions in order to figure out which word he meant to use, and he got quite frustrated and said, “You just don’t understand business because you are a woman. Business talk is only for men.” I was immediately taken aback and took a moment to cool down – I was quite frustrated.

I knew that we had been trained to address the situation by relinquishing the session to someone, in this case a man, who was more suited to the tutee. So, I told the student that I didn't feel I could be helpful in the current situation. He seemed to panic and apologized with, “No, no, no! I’m sorry, I know that women in America are different.” It came as a surprise but he explained that he didn't have any time to wait for a male tutor because the assignment was due that afternoon. If there had been any male tutors available, I would have relinquished the session regardless. However, none were available, so I continued and finished out the session myself.

I have never been an exchange student to a foreign country but I feel that, should I have made that decision, I would want to immerse myself in whatever culture I found myself in. While I would not voluntarily attend an exchange program in Saudi Arabia, I would still want to observe whatever culture I had chosen (e.g. Parisian, British, German, Italian, Brazilian, etc.). While I can respect the cultural challenges that Saudi students present, particularly the male/female dynamic, I still can’t help but think we are doing them a disservice.

Yes, most American women act differently than most Saudi woman. However, I can’t see that as proper justification for conceding to those differences on the basis of prejudice. That’s what it is: prejudice. Saudi men have been raised and taught to believe that women are inferior to them – this is why they are uncomfortable being the male “student-tutee” of the female “teacher-tutor.” But, they made the conscious choice to complete their studies at an American university and need to understand that we abide by different rules. We do them absolutely no service by conceding to their cultural bubble in a place where that cultural bubble no longer applies to the society at large.

Now, I understand that tutoring embraces the idea that learning can only happen when the student is comfortable and open. I also understand that the Writing Center shouldn't be a place of cultural activism. But the Writing Center’s goal for this year is to be “inclusive” of all cultural backgrounds. Well, my cultural background dictates that a tutor can be effective regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or religious preference.  In this capacity, I believe that the Writing Center’s policy of tutor replacement based on cultural differences does a disservice to both the tutor (who needs to learn to face these global struggles) and the tutee (who needs to embrace the culture that they have adopted for the duration of their study).

p.s. Sorry this was so long, I was passionate about the topic. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Hostility? Where?

I am at a bit of a loss, as I still have not had any truly hostile tutees. I have heard horror stories form others in the lab, but still have nothing to personally contribute to this discussion. Is it luck in the tutees I have had? Am I just a shit tutor that is completely oblivious? I am not sure exactly why it is that I have had few issues with my tutees.
 I think that one thing that I have going for me is the combination of sex and age. Most of the stories I have heard seem to come from young and/or female tutors. As an older male tutor, maybe I fit into a profile that many students expect from instructors and they are more willing to listen without a fight. There have been a few tutees that seem surprised that someone my age is in the writing lab, so that could be a part of it.
The other thing I wonder about is if I am not catching passive aggressive behaviors and assuming everything is ok. In general, I do miss some of the subtle cues people drop in my personal life, so maybe its the same at work. Hostile tutees could be throwing flak my way and it goes over my head and I keep going like everything is fine.
At this point all I can to is be prepared for hostility, as it will surely come my way eventually. I always try to be flexible in every session by being ready for anything.

Gary Lindeburg