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.