Calming the Noise and Avoiding Burnout: Writing Fellows

By March 11, 2014Peer Writing Tutoring

I was starting to feel like I would soon be leaving work with a pounding headache, rather than the feeling of gratification I should have after doing what we do at as peer writing tutors. I got a taste of burnout—something I wanted to avoid it at all costs.

My life went from a leisurely walk in the park to something similar to trying to hear yourself think at a rock concert when I started working at the UCWbL this quarter. I am not saying I see UCWbL as a rock concert–although the amount of excitement is strangely similar–but with my own classes, written feedbacks, conferences, and Writing Center tutoring all on my plate, the noise in my head was at an ultimate high. I was starting to feel like I would soon be leaving work with a pounding headache, rather than the feeling of gratification I should have after doing what we do at as peer writing tutors. I got a taste of burnout—something I wanted to avoid at all costs. But my lack of knowledge on how to manage student/work life, and how to balance time for myself and time for my fellows was inching me closer and closer to the hair-pulling, bloodshot-eyed, and teeth clenching feeling that comes hand in hand with the unfortunate feeling of being overworked.

This job should be challenging, even in your most enjoyable appointments.  But in order to continue doing what we love and loving what we do, we need to take care of the main agent in accomplishing that: ourselves.

These are some assumptions I had that led to the brink of burnout, followed by a few of my suggestions for avoiding it altogether:

1. Getting things done all at once is the only way to get them done at all.

When making my first schedule, I looked at the days in which I had five-seven hours of time when I could schedule all of my appointments at once. Not only did I have to go without eating, getting fresh air, or even just taking a few moments to collect my thoughts, by the seventh appointment, I was definitely not in the mindset to be “constructively” criticizing others. At that point, my goal was to get through the appointment, rather than to legitimately accomplish the tasks at hand. I was left feeling drained, and questioning if I could really do this twice every quarter.

I can’t help myself from thinking that I would have never had this unthinkable thought had I reminded myself of some of my personal guidelines. Here they are:

  • Breaks are essential. If you need to schedule four or more appointments in one day, give yourself an hour break in between. Take a walk, do some yoga, or take a road trip. But what ever you do: change up the scenery! Get out of where ever you are and give your eyes something fresh to look at.
  • Food is essential; everyone knows that. And brace yourselves, UCWbLers: the occasional bite to eat is O.K., even in appointments.
  • Having one appointment a day for a week is more effective than having seven in a row. We are all busy people, but rather than searching your schedule for entire days or chunks of time that you have open, look for an hour you have open on several different days. Spread it out, like jelly on toast!

 2. I’ll just schedule my written feedbacks on MyWCOnline later, when I get a chance.

Bad idea. Utilize MyWCOnline. Make a schedule for yourself, and stick with it. Not only does scheduling your written feedback appointments help the research team research stuff, but most importantly, it provides you with a schedule to refer to when you get off track (which I know we all do at times).

3. I have so much homework to do, but my appointments are more important.

In the words of Cynthia M., the reason we all have this job is because we are students, and if that doesn’t come first, we can’t continue to do what we love as tutors. Put your school work first. Don’t get me wrong, I would choose collaborating with a writer over writing a paper on American Exceptionalism for a polisci class any day. But it’s important to remember that another huge reason why we’re all here is because we can prioritize. Not just global errors over local, but our responsibilities as student employees as well. Value your schoolwork, because if we don’t, how are we supposed to help others do so?

Here are some thing that I’ve learned this quarter about putting my work first:

  • Rescheduling a missed appointment with a student is generous, and should be done whenever possible. But this is not a job requirement. At some point in the quarter, due to your workload, you may not have the time to reschedule appointments, and it’s important to recognize when this may be. Assertiveness is helpful in these situations; letting your fellows know ahead of time is, in my opinion, a good practice.
  • Look at what your own workload will be when making your conference schedule. Not only should you block off times when you are in class, but if you know you have a big assignment due, identify the times in which you’ll be able to work on it, and block those off too!

In his article “Changing Students’ Attitudes,” Toni Haring-Smith states that burnout, along with becoming a campus celebrity, is one of the biggest pitfalls to avoid when starting out as a tutor; but furthermore, there is no concrete advice on how to do so aside from one thing: continued communication among the Writing Center community. In light of this suggestion, I propose that we continue to share our own stories about challenges we face as tutors and suggestions for how to overcome them. We all know that collaboration is wonderful.  So if you’re feeling overworked, talk to someone. Maybe even a simple venting sesh will help calm the noise in your head.

What are your best practices for “Sharpening the Saw”? How do you take care of yourself amidst all the hard work you do as a Writing Tutor, student, or professor, and all of the other roles you play?