As a new tutor with one quarter under my belt, it was interesting to see how much time and preparation is put into the reopening of the UCWbL after Winter break. On January 6, peer tutors, writing fellows, receptionists, and directors alike assembled in the Lincoln Park Student Center for the annual UCWbL staff retreat. Over the course of the day, we discussed our goals for Winter quarter and some of our past tutoring experiences.
This continuous ‘training’ and reflection is a practice that takes place in writing centers across the country. This is not to say that all writing centers share the same training methods; there are a wide variety of perspectives on tutor training which result in different approaches. In this post I will reflect on training at the UCWbL and discuss alternative training methods used by other writing centers.
To begin, it is important to note that there is not, nor should there be a universal approach to tutor training. In “Tutor Training Comes Full Circle: From E-mail to Practicum and Back Again,” Matthew D. Klauza from Auburn University explains that it is easy for a writing center to conceive and implement tutor training as a sort of “how-to program” which fails to consider two important realities: “one, all tutors are different; each arrives with a range of abilities, and two, tutors are people with emotional concerns about their new roles…” Klauza is touching on a difficult yet vital question: how can a single writing center create a comprehensive tutor training program when the tutors themselves exhibit such a diverse mix of abilities, experiences, and strengths?
Klauza describes an “e-mail-based mentor program” which the Auburn Writing Center uses to address the concerns of individual tutors. Mentors are paired with two to four new tutors based on their schedule and field of study. New tutors receive emails from their mentors once a week with feedback on individual performance and answers to questions.
In “Training on the Cutting Edge,” an article published by a group of writing center staff including Zachary Dobbins and Heidi Juel, tutor training approaches from universities across the country are compiled and discussed. For example, the University of Texas at Austin Undergraduate Writing Center provides its incoming tutors an online archive of training workshop and consultation videos. Because this writing center has such a large staff, the video archive provides a quick, convenient way for new tutors to expose themselves to the dynamics of a real appointment as well as to instructional material.
Sharon Estes and Alexis Martina discuss the benefits of an online tutor training at Ohio State University in “Taking Tutor Training Online.” The online program was created in response to scheduling difficulties with previous training programs and the inevitable mix of experience levels among tutors who attended them. With a website comprised of interactive modules that focus on specific aspects of tutoring, the program seeks to “individualize” tutor training. Tutors focus on specific modules assigned by administrators as well as on those that capture their interest. Each module requires the tutor to reflect on tutoring practices and experiences. Tutors are also prompted to complete additional training exercises online that are tailored to fit their individual strengths and weaknesses.
Each one of these programs considers some of the difficulties and questions related to tutor training and responds to it a bit differently. The UCWbL’s approach seems to be more traditional and labor intensive than those discussed above. The Writing Rhetoric and Discourse class that every new tutor or writing fellow takes during their first quarter of employment provides frequent opportunities for discussion, reflection, and practical instruction.
I have found my training as a new tutor to be both comprehensive and individualized primarily due to the focus on small group discussions. That said, an online or email-based training program could certainly be a helpful resource for UCWbL tutors and fellows of all experience levels; there are currently few online training resources available for UCWbLers aside from an electronic staff handbook and guides to style and grammar conventions. The UCWbL’s class-based approach takes important concerns and challenges into account, but as our work as tutors and fellows continues to be influenced by technology, it seems likely that more of our training operations will move online in the future.