Tutoring and working with writers never seems to be exactly what you’d expect. But I have found that it is not the content, but the connection made with the writer that makes the face-to-face appointment truly invaluable. In an hour long session the tutor is presented with dozens of opportunities to bond with the writer over the work that is being focused on, or the class from where it was assigned, or any other of the many miscellaneous items of conversation that may come up. It is in seizing these opportunities that I believe a memorable tutoring session is made.
This past week I had an opportunity to meet with two writers who came with writing from totally different subject fields. The first student I will discuss here was a freshman in WRD 103, who came in to work on a rhetorical analysis of one of Barrack Obama’s convention speeches. I felt ready for success going into this appointment, because I had written a paper similar to this only a year ago. Also, I have taken many WRD classes (it is my major) and feel I can talk competently about it with people looking to learn more on the subject. And while I was able to do this with this writer, I felt it was the student who came in next that I was really able to connect with, and have success tutoring.
The Second student was an upperclassmen ESL student working on a philosophy protocol on the writings of John Dewey. She came asking for help unpacking the dense prose and pulling out the root ideas within. The writer was clearly a hard-working student with a genuine concern for understanding the subject matter. And, while I was not familiar with the teachings of this philosopher, I was able to connect with the writer on this level. I told her not to worry that she didn’t understand everything, and reassured that I didn’t either. We laughed about the repetition, and the wacky pedantic style that Dewey seemed always to be writing in. And while we worked through it together, the writer and I tried to find ways to relate the material back to our own lives. Once we identified we knew progress was made, the student left feeling confident, and asked for a repeat session.
In the end I felt a strong connection to the second student. It surprised me, because I was expecting to have a much more fruitful session with the student bringing in the work with which I was already familiar. This experience went a long way in showing me that the material does not predetermine the success of the tutoring session. Instead, it is the connection you make with the writer that sets a strong impression, and makes a successful tutoring experience.