The One All The Goodbyes

Saying goodbye was so much harder than I really thought it would be. I thought that I would have to really connect with a student in order to be torn apart when the semester ended. However, I found myself a little more emotional than I had hoped.

Between my two Wednesday 098 groups, I realized that this job will connect you to people when you least expect it. Through that, I have found more confidence in my own writing and have inspired that in those students.

There is this exchange of ideas that happens whilst on the job that isn’t visible. I cannot pinpoint an exact moment when we each helped one another– but it happened.

I felt oddly weepy my last day with these freshmen and I began to realize as I started writing my final papers that it was because they taught me just as much as I taught them. These were real people, with real problems, that listened to me and considered my advice with respect. They were the first living proof that I could succeed at this job.

So I didn’t feel so bad when I teared up saying goodbye. I know that the job is more important than anything, but I think it’s the people you meet that make this job possible.

When I see these students on campus, I am reminded that I helped someone at some time. I am reminded that my job is the one that puts smiles on their faces when they finish a paper, when they come up with an idea, when they give their own valuable advice to another peer.

Confidence was what I wanted to build in them all along. That was always my end goal as a consultant. I didn’t realize that they would play such a huge role in boosting my confidence as a consultant.

And, this blog is coming to an end. I hope that I continue to flourish. I’ve enjoyed my time here, with Prof Ellis, with all of you consultants. May we continue to grow, and learn, and love our jobs.

 

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The One With My Bad Day

Sometimes as a consultant, you have a bad day. We all talk about when students do, but what happens when I’m not feeling my best?

There is a delicate balance of emotions that I find myself partaking in whenever I am feeling a little off. I like to turn things into positives, however, and I learn from myself on those days.

Just this past week, I was feeling rough, but put on a smile for a consultation anyway. I sat there, feeling bad for this student who was really trying hard for an A on this essay. Normally, I am a little more directive; I am ready to go, ready to show a student the possibilities. This time, I was so exhausted that I resorted to a much more non-directive approach. I didn’t know all the answers because I couldn’t focus. I had to keep asking questions.

As it turned out, that was all I needed to do. This student was responsive to my questions and began piecing things together herself. Maybe this was the lesson I was supposed to learn that day. SO now, even on my good days, I try to ask more questions and push myself when I get a student who seems to responds well.

I also don’t worry when I’m not feeling so great.

 

The One To Replace the Other One

In light of not getting anyone to respond to my lovely emails, I took it upon myself to write about something different. I got thinking about some experiences I have had myself with writing in other classes and how to apply that to what I know now as a writing consultant.

It seems, in my college career, SWS classes always involve an emphasis on analyzing and using critical thinking skills. When students in these classes come in, I find it the same. I was working with a film major on a film paper, however the class was an SWS class. The main focus, as the student explained, was taking a few ideas inside film work and analyzing movies and finding these things.

I am not so great with film lingo, though I have taken a class. Helping her, however, was fairly easy. She walked me through the film and applied each concept to the film where it was present or absent. From there, she was to analyze its success.

Isn’t that what a lot of analysis is? Just determining what things exist and succeed and weighing them against things that don’t work. When it boils down to critical analysis, it falls across the curriculum. Even if you aren’t an expert in the area, you can learn the patterns and the concepts, and from there you can analyze.

I looked at another student’s paper, a history paper. I have never been very good at history. Just too many dates for me to remember and spit back out. However, this student had all the resources to look up names and dates. This SWS history class fell back on analyzing who really started WWI. When we brainstormed an outline, I found myself able to jump to connections before the student got there and could follow the analyses, even though I hadn’t taken the class.

It amazes me that we are capable of finding things just the same as someone next to us. That paper reminded me that history repeats itself, and so does the process of analysis.

The One Where I Finally Get This Website to Post My Work (And My Philosophy)

After struggling with this website all semester, I learned that the trick is just to never use my computer at all and steal my girlfriend’s to make my posts. Without further ado, here is my final philosophy (and the remaining blog posts I need are sure to follow).

 

 

 

          Give and Take

Equilibrium is what keeps my head above water. Without this sort of internal balance, I lose focus, determination, and will. As a writing consultant, I am after a beneficial, symbiotic relationship between myself and students. Whether it’s through humor, personal connection, or non-directive teaching, I aim for an even exchange that helps the student to float and thrive. It is in that exchange that I help students find the confidence that makes writing seem like something they can do.

I’ve always been excited about writing and so I never contemplated what it’s like for someone who might not. At this job, I run into students who loathe writing more than I love it. For many consultations, I was frustrated. I wanted these students to be ready and willing to talk about writing. That is not their job, however. Their job is to come in and ask for help. It is my job to make it interesting. The solution started with one joke. There was this student sitting in front of me, hating every moment of where we were, and I couldn’t help but laugh. I said, “You hate this, don’t you?” The student said, “I’m a little salty, yeah,” and started to laugh with me. We went back and forth, bringing his tension to the surface and cleansing the anger that he had. I started trying this sort of blunt behavior with other students. I was shocked to find that, first, I am funny, and second, students respond incredibly well to humor. The body language around me started changing. Students were sitting closer, touching my hand while they laughed, and keeping their eyes on me and their papers. It was so much easier after this to get the student to see that the writing process can be fun, even if the act itself makes them cringe. I may be the only person the make a student laugh today and sometimes that’s all they need.

When students come in, frazzled and in distress, I immediately step in and offer to help. The first question in my long list is: How are you feeling? Nine times out of ten, the student I am working with will give me an indication of where they are in their head. Some students just need to talk, about school, about home, or about general campus issues. I have had conversations about the weather, campus housing and dining, and classes. Once we worked through the problematic feelings, we were able to focus on the paper. I find that this works because the students feel comfortable with me. They are able to see me as a peer, as another student, while I talk them through whatever is bothering them. In return, I will confide to them any stresses I have. I like to show them that just because I am a writing consultant doesn’t mean I have everything together. They are less scared when they know that I make mistakes and start research papers late, just like they do. This personal connection I forge allows me to be taken seriously. The students get a taste for who I am as a person and a writer. I become more relatable and not someone that is evaluating them more than I am their writing.

The student’s writing is what the student is there for, after all. In my presence, I refer to them as writers. They are just like myself, no more no less, no matter how much older or younger they are. When I am holding a consultation, I aim for both parties to learn something. The learning on my part is easy. I learn about different topics, different styles, and different opinions every day. For the writer, I try to teach as non-directly as I can. I say teach because I believe that writing is a partially acquired skill. People come into the writing center because they are still working on obtaining good writing skills and strategies. I am there as a go between to bring each student writer to a new lesson. Sometimes we take that journey together and we both find an answer. Often when I am working with citations or a new type of paper, like a lab report, I walk away with the same amount of information that the student does. Learning alongside the student also helps them to see that they can do this themselves if I wasn’t here. One of the most valuable things students take away from a session with me is how to find information on their own in the event that no one can help them.

This is where the non-directive approach takes place. On most occasions, the student only needs gentle guiding to help them understand how to fix or notice something. Asking questions can be incredibly useful. Throughout a session, I try to do one of two things. I either respond with how I am feeling, or ask what the student thinks is off. I will point out problem areas, asking what could be done to improve the wording or structure. Then I will start pausing on sentences, seeing if they can pick out any grammatical errors. Some students get irritated with the questions, even when I mix it up. However, there are two questions that help alleviate their irritation. Before reading a student’s paper, I ask, “How do you feel about your paper?” At the end, I follow up with, “How do you feel now?” These two questions, though not about a specific portion of the paper, help the student writer to realize and be conscious of how they felt before and after the session. When they feel better, all of the other questions, that they were possibly annoyed by,  have a purpose that they can recognize. The questioning becomes something they admire and recognize as beneficial.

Each of these methods are tried and true in my world of consulting. I continue to change my ways, week by week, but my main goals stay consistent. These students that come into the center are brave. By acknowledging their bravery, their feelings, and making them smile, I can get them to hear me out when I talk them through their paper. Having someone who takes the time to understand can make any person more open to ideas. The more I connect, the more we mutually learn. Being a writing consultant has been a balancing act of learning and emoting, two things that normally do not go hand in hand. For me and these students, it is the only way.    

The One With the Math

I hate math. I loath it. Numbers give me an anxiety that I can’t even explain to you.

So naturally, a student brought in a math paper and I nearly walked away. I put on my happy pants and proceeded. Oh brother.

I let my anxiety get the best of me. I panicked. I let it slip how much I hate math Luckily, the student did too.

I was still so far out of my element. I hasn’t taken math since MTH 122. I had no idea what this paper was supposed to look like. All I knew was 30 minutes was too many minutes for this consultation.

Unexpectedly, as the student read through the paper, I began to understand, and she began to pick up her own mistakes. I thought about how this writing was similar to an essay and focused on the words, rather than the numbers, and it turns out, I was more help than I ever thought I could be. The student left content.

This story isn’t so climactic, but I am actually rather proud of that fact. I held my own in a consultation where the student knew more than I did. It was an experience I think we all should have. It was terrifying, but humbling, and also comforting to know that we do NOT need to know the answers to everything.

The One With the Joke

So many of my consultations begin with a student who feels that they are not a good writer. Sometimes they are right (though I never tell them) and sometimes, if not most of the time, they are good writers. Like myself and other consultants though, they doubt themselves and feel reluctant to share.

It’s funny, because they come to me in hopes of getting help, but the moment we get to work, their body language shifts and it’s quite easy to see that they would rather run or hide under the desk (and I have been there, too).

But how brave are these individuals. They aren’t getting paid to sit here like I am and they might not even get much help, but they walk in and opt to sit down with me. Incredible!

Anyway ,on to my point. This one student in particular came in and was feeling really nervous, convinced that the paper he had was trash. He started talking about his paper, slowly becoming more animated as I showed my interest in his topic: humor. I was even more interested when he told me the joke he used as a hook.

For reference, here’s the joke:

“How do you fish for research? With the interNET.”

YES.

I called over other consultants who laughed with us ans from then on, I saw the spark I had lit. The student was  gaining confidence and after reading through his paper and talking it through, he decided he really liked the paper and where he was going with it.

That’s what this job is all about: building confidence and watching these students become better writers. That’s our mission, anyhow, to build better writers and better papers.

Mission accomplished.

The One With the Nondirective

I have had such a positive experience with students thus far when it comes to their reaction to non-directive consulting. There seems to be an understanding at least halfway through my consultations that I am not asking questions to confuse, but to guide. Most students value this and start learning how to ask themselves questions to get their paper in the direction they intended.

Every once in a great while, I get a student who just will not give. One in particular was tricky and left me feeling a bit queasy. The student that came in would be applying for grad school soon as was pushing through a big research paper. His story was that he had taken it to a writing consultant who said that the organization made sense to them, but when he took it home to his wife, she ripped it apart and reorganized it for him. He came to me, saying that he needed reassurance in the structure and organization and a second opinion.

He read to me out loud and let me follow along. As he read,  noted that the organization made sense to me, however, there was something important he was missing. I asked him if I could see the assignment sheet, ad he handed it over willingly. There is was, plain as day : “You will be graded on how well you analyze and draw conclusions from your research.” In this student’s paper, there were sentences with citations and that was it. There was no analysis or connections between what he researched and how he interpreted the information.

Pointing this out to him was the moment it all went awry. I explained that only giving research with citations was not conducive to a research paper. it would involve some analysis and a connection of ideas. So I asked him, “What did you learn and why is it important?” “What is the purpose?” “What confuses you?”

I got silence and shrugs for every question. He looked at me as if I belonged on some other planet. I tried my best to ask more questions, and to clarify what the professor wanted, but he walked away more confused and upset. I stuck to my gut though, and I did not waste my time being directive with someone who didn’t value or try to understand what I had attempted to explain.

I did the very best I could, and I can look back and admire that I held my own and stuck to my principles of a good writing consultant.