Cottle 1 Joseph Cottle LAE 5946 Jennifer Wells 10 August 2012 A Time for Mourning, A Time for Dancing, A Time for Reflections: Life in Bootcamp and Tutoring Observations About four weeks ago, as I dredged myself to the RWC to receive assistance on my literacy narrative, and thus face my apprehension and dislike of receiving help from others, I found my mind wandering to the only previous time in my life I had used a writing center: just before graduation, when I was applying to graduate schools the first time, and needed a bit of help tinkering with my statement of purpose, or SOP as I semi-affectionately referred to it in all my document names: SOP for Florida, SOP for Washington, SOP for Iowa, and so on. It was a frustrating experience for me, because as someone who is prone to verbosity in his writings, having to consciously curtail excess presented a problem. The tutors there at Texas A&M University Corpus Christi were patient, though, and very willing to work with me and my occasional bouts of ego. And now, as I ready myself to be on the opposite side of the table (or the same side, depending), I feel a little apprehensive, knowing how important my role will play in their academic well-being. My excitement far outweighs any nervousness I have; I am eager to go to the RWC for 10 hours a week, sit right down, and be ready to help. Even when the stream of students might slow, I won't lose any kind of heart, and always have that eagerness ready to flow.
Cottle 2 No matter my enthusiasm, though, I should not overstep my limitations, and think I can do more than I can. I can't help every student become an infinitely better writer by the end of the session, or even a few. But there are a few ways I want them to change to feel better about their writings, of course, on the sentence and structural level, to realize how the instructions can be read more effectively in order to better determine what their professor requires of them. As Julie Hagemann tells us, when "tutors are familiar with writing assignments, they can better make connections to what students already know - or at least have been exposed to" (5). Obviously, I won't be familiar with every professor's rules and wants and ways, but considering my experience with ENC 1101 and 1102 that will continue to develop, I will continue to establish familiarity with their writing assignments. This way, I won't be floundering if they suddenly approach me with a topic I have little to no knowledge of. Charlie, Olivia, and Nora did not all have the best grasp of what the students' assignments needed to be - and that was okay! Hardly a criticism against them. Sometimes, the instructor's words were unclear, and the student themselves had a hard time saying what they needed. But as with the idea that Stephen North brings, the teacher's words should never be second guessed ("The Idea of a Writing Center "). These particular tutors did admirably well in not expressing frustration, and instead used their own intelligence to ascertain as best as they could the parameters of the assignment, and in the couple cases where they were still unsure, they told the students to go back and ask the teachers. This is a good behavior to cultivate - too many times, students are (sometimes understandably) nervous to approach teachers, but coming to the center first helps them become more open to seeking help from their professors as well.
Cottle 3 As Muriel Harris notes, taking cues from Jeff Brooks and his "defensive minimalist tutoring," sometimes imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery, but the most effective way of tutoring. If a student starts showing incredibly rude or bothersome body language, language that clearly indicates their lack of desire to be there or to work - treat the student in the same fashion, at least to a degree (Harris 30). I think we've all encountered such students or if not, we will; they likely won't come up often in our sessions, but the fact is, not everyone goes to the Reading Writing Center on their own volition - many times it is mandated, and sometimes it is resented. We cannot (or should not, rather), however, act the exact same as the student - that would ruin the effectiveness of the session completely. But, but if they slouch, slouch back. If they move away, move away. It's not easy for everyone to be this way; a lot of people would feel guilty, feel they should try a different approach. And perhaps they should! Thankfully, I did not have to see this particular tutoring style in action during my observations: Charlie, Nora, and Adam all had well-behaved, if not completely eager, students. However, even if they had had those 'bad' kinds, I have a feeling they would have tried different tactics other than mimicry to getting the students swung back to their side - which is completely understandable. Myself, I absolutely love it as an instructional method, and will definitely give it a try if the opportunity arises. It's a bold move that puts the pressure on them to react and respond - of course, you won't be silent during this, and continue to ask questions, and with the positional shiftings happening and the gap between you, all of a sudden the student becomes much more eager to answer. In my experiences with C2 Education last year, an elementary, middle, and high school tutoring business, I had several students who adamantly refused to work - and sometimes that kick in the pants is exactly what they need. They are used to being ornery, and then having the teacher try to overlook this and
Cottle 4 just keep being demanding, but to adjust to their 'level' might very well prove as effective as anything else. As Lisa Dagher writes, quoting Bruffee, the tutorial should not be "an extension of, but an alternative to traditional classroom teaching" (1). To me, this is a tricky thing to balance in the RWC - in the Digital Studio, making a non-traditional tutoring session is much easier, because a great deal of non-traditional material is dealt with in there. In the RWC, there is no such uniqueness - students will come in with their traditional paper essays, and we as tutors will have to fight to not veer into being like their teachers. Essentially, we have to set up the situation so that they feel at ease, comforted, and complimented, never worried that they're not doing a good job. The biggest difference between it and a normal classroom, of course, is the fact it is a one on one situation as opposed to fifteen or twenty on one. All of a sudden, the relationship has shifted and the student is faced with an authority figure (not their teacher but the next best thing - and in some cases of extended tutoring, perhaps even the best thing) in close personal proximity for an extended time, maybe for the first time in their lives. And I know that can be scary - for them as well as for us. The tutors I observed were all effective in soothing their student's worries particularly Nora, took care to ease her student about her fears regarding the medical school application she was filling out. There was a definite personalness between them that quite simply just is not found in a classroom setting. While teachers can't really be too friendly with their students, for various and sundry reasons, there are few reasons why a tutor can't establish a friendly relationship with their students. Though Michael Steven Marx stresses the importance of being too open with your students, lest they get the wrong impression about the parameters of your relationship, it's not often a tutor will actually step beyond those boundaries (54). I never
Cottle 5 plan on letting the my personal behavior cross any lines, but instead just let the student - my tutees- feel comfortable enough to share their frustrations and their feelings. Balancing it out should prove not terrifically challenging, but ultimately rewarding. As Thomas Newkirk writes, the agenda of a conference often deals with revision, but it "could deal with the writing process of the student or with a paper that is yet to be written" (318). This applies to more than just conferences, of course. Even though tutoring appointments have extra time in them, at least thirty minutes to an hour, whereas conferences get ten minutes tops, there is still no time to really dilly dally. Certain bits of introductory conversation are key probably about two to three minutes spent talking and going over the assignment, and up to five if they are brand new, should easily suffice. Charlie had some admirable bits of interaction especially with Isaiah, the student I personally observed with him. There seemed to be a good deal of camaraderie between them. I don't expect an immediate good rep between me and my students, as there's always that awkward little hill to go over. But past these interactive bits, the focus should be the student and their academic well-being. Students will often come in either vaguely unaware as to what do write about, or come in with a fairly poorly organized and written paper. The most critical thing to remember, though, is that you are NOT seeking to help them with that one paper, necessarily. You can just give a student a paper, essentially write it for them as YOU want it done, and let him coast for one more assignment. But you can teach a student how to write a paper, and send him off for a lifetime of papers. I know many of my future students will come into the writing center with a good deal of writing anxiety; as Susan McLeod notes, it's not a term that usually or necessarily describes those who are not intellectually capable of handling the task at hand, but those who "nevertheless
Cottle 6 have difficulty with it," for any such reasons (427). Unfortunately, at least of the time McLeod wrote her article, not much research had been done regarding writing anxiety. It's still a difficult subject to comprehend, but one has to realize that "emotions can be enabling as well as crippling" (McLeod 428). Even some level of anxiety concerning writing can be healthy and encouraging to a student - and they should not be made to feel bad for anything they do (unless it's, say, writing racist or sexist or homophobic or plain offensive or disturbing text - then they need to be told to toe the line). Rather, that anxiety can be utilized effectively to help finish writing a paper that they've started and cannot perhaps finish. Even some odd situations arise from time to time. One student in Nora's class was an older black woman, and she herself (in her speech, not her text) portrayed racist beliefs, even making such suggestions toward me that I didn't look Hispanic when I told her I was. It was more than a little uncomfortable, and I quite frankly was not sure what to answer. Thankfully, Nora effectively side-stepped the issue and turned the tutee's attention back to her history paper at hand. It made me a little apprehensive, however, that particular future tutees I have will be the same way, either subtly towards me in person or more blatantly toward others in writings. Following her example should prove effective. As Leigh Ryan and Lisa Zimmerlli noted, all kinds of resentful, unruly, antagonistic writers will come into the studio seeking help. Patience, politeness, and acknowledgement of their frustrations are key to helping them calm down and guide the class back along to an effective course (95). We have to be prepared for a dearth of ENC 1101 and 1102 students - as per Heather Robinson's article, the numbers of those students coming to writing centers is dropping rapidly (75). I personally witnessed, in two of the three observations, non FYC students needing
Cottle 7 assistance. Charlie helped a student with a history essay, and Nora a student who was applying to medical school. English might be our forte, but if these anecdotes help corroborate anything, it's that the skills we hone in these classes are transferrable. The goal is to never get overwhelmed, or freaked out, merely because they're there with something other than a crot or a personal narrative. I personally believe that no matter what class my future tutees are in, I will be able to grant them the help they are seeking. These twin classes completed over the last six weeks provided a great deal of knowledge to my tutoring, teaching, and basic academic philosophies. I am exceedingly excited to begin both life as a full-time graduate student and a full-time tutor in two weeks, and look ahead to adding to my personal databanks, as well as the collective knowledge of my future tutees.