Toeing the Line of Professionalism

By November 2, 2012Peer Writing Tutoring

If you’re like me, then working in a writing center is the first time you have worked in a place where you might have to face a situation where you are teetering on the edge of professionalism. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t the first job I’ve had. I’ve been a teaching assistant working with kids anywhere from the age of 2 to 10 years old and I’ve been a writer for a news station. What I’ve found, though, is that when a writer comes to you for personal advice, not writing help, you can’t always handle it the same way as in other jobs without potentially crossing a line.

When I worked as a teaching assistant and a kid came to me because one of their friends was being mean, or because Johnny pulled Sally’s hair, or because all their friends had gone home for the day and they were bored, I had plenty of options for what I could do to help. I could put Johnny in timeout for hurting Sally; I could tell them that if their friends are mean, maybe they could play on the swings with a different group of kids; I could play a game with them or tell them stories. If something more serious happened, I could always go to the principle or tell the child’s parents, or both. I always had one, any, or all of these as options and none of them would result in me crossing a line. The only wrong thing to do, was to do nothing.

As a teaching aide, professionalism was a thick, straight, line. You always knew exactly where it was and whether or not you were crossing it. But at the writing center, the line of professionalism is not always a straight one, and there are times where it can become very, very thin.  There is always the possibility that we could be faced with a situation that we don’t necessarily know how to handle, and our gut reaction on how to handle it might not be the way we should. I know that for many people, if a writer comes to a tutor with a personal problem, our initial reaction would be to do what tutors do: talk to them and help them with it. For me, in all of my other jobs, this was the right thing to do, the professional thing to do, but as a tutor that isn’t necessarily true.

Even though we call ourselves peer writing tutors, that doesn’t mean we’re expected to help writers through personal problems beyond their paper.  This means that if they come to us for a personal problem, whether we feel we know how to handle it or not, we have the responsibility to refer them to the services the University provides for help. We are not trained to handle anything beyond helping with the writing process, at whatever stage, so helping the people we are working with with personal problems would be crossing a line.

If you are faced with a situation where you think you might have crossed the line of professionalism (and there are plenty of other ways to do it aside from what I said above), or you are not sure how to handle a situation without crossing the line, going to the administration for help is always a good idea. I know it can be scary because you are afraid you are going to get in trouble if you think you handled the situation, whatever it is, poorly up to this point, or maybe you are just afraid of hurting the writer that is asking for help. But the administration, one or all of them, are the ones that are going to give you the advice you need and the proper steps to follow to handle whatever is going on.