I have no idea what this means. How do you do this? What do you mean? Wait, what? These are just a few of the things I’ve said during my sessions at the Writing Center. Let me clarify what I mean by this. These are things that I have asked my tutees in my position as a tutor in the Writing Center. This probably sounds backwards. The tutor’s the one who’s supposed to answer the questions not ask them. Right? That is exactly what I believed to be the case when I began my time working in the Writing Center. I was so certain of this “truth”, in fact, that the mere thought of tutoring filled me to the brim with feelings of terror and monumental inadequacy. I’ve been writing for years, and I’ve written my fair share of paper in school, but what makes anybody think that that makes me qualified to teach others how to do it? Ludicrous.
So, I would ask the aforementioned questions of my tutees. Every word of every question made me feel like a failure and a massive ignoramus. Of course, my tutees were totally understanding people. They had nothing but nice things to say to me, including the fact that they actually found the advice that I could manage to give to be quite helpful regardless of my worries. Since I was already being hard on myself, I believed that they were simply being polite fore sake of sparing my feelings. “You did well, big guy. Here’s a juice box for you” was the patronizing phrase I felt laid beneath the surface of their encouragement. I could almost feel their hands patting my head as they stood to leave the session. As such, I did not put too much stock into the compliment that came my way.
However, this changed during one of my sessions a few weeks ago. A girl came in with a paper on an environmental issue of which I had very little knowledge. Her question, though, was about finding sources on the library’s databases. This was something that I actually understood on some level. She had one source but needed about six more in order to meet the requirements of the paper. So, I did what I could and explained, as well as I was able, the process of how to better the way that she searched for items on the databases. By the end of the session, we had found at least three more sources for her to use. While this was shy of the total number that she needed, she thanked me adamantly for helping her get that much closer to finishing her work. This time, I accepted her “thank you” for the genuine gratitude that it was intended to be.
I am reminded of an article that I read in my Writing Center Theory class entitled “Will You Trust Me?” The article talks about a very similar situation concerning tutor and tutee relations in regards to what a tutor should know. It points out that we are students too. We are learning alongside our tutees. Therefore, no, we are not going to be a bottomless well of writing knowledge. As it turns out, the tutees oftentimes understand some things that we don’t. This story is proof of that fact.
It’s funny that my tutees were the first ones to understand this concept even though, I assume, they had probably never read that article before, and I had. They weren’t under any kind of illusion that I would have every answer to every question they might ask. They knew that I was a student just like them with a similar amount of knowledge and experience. Most tutees don’t expect perfection from their tutors. They don’t hold us up to some grammar god status, so don’t do that to yourself. You are human, and you don’t have all of the answers. It’s okay. Do what you can, and accept every “thank you” that you are given.