The following has been adapted from my final paper for PWR 616: Technical Writing.
Tutoring isn’t simply editing a paper for someone according to your own personal preferences about writing. It’s giving others the skills to analyze their own writing and not be afraid of it. Other significant aspects of tutoring are having empathy for the person you’re tutoring and being able to encourage them while also critiquing their work and thought processes.
A tutoring session is a space for students to learn without judgement. Wrong answers aren’t wrong, they’re just not headed in the right direction. These answers can be led onto a better path by suggestions and allowing the student time to think through a solution. A tutoring session is a guiding force in a student’s life amidst chaos of school, sports, and other extra-curricular activities.
Tutoring is not something that should be taken lightly or jumped into without the proper training.
Things that do not qualify you to be a writing tutor include:
•Being an English major in college
•Taking a literature class that you enjoyed in college
•Writing a book
•Your love of writing
•A Shakespeare tattoo
Things that can qualify you to be a writing tutor include:
•Previous experience, such as in a Writing Center or as a teaching assistant for a writing course
•Proof of proficiency in writing (test scores, grades, any awards or distinctions)
•A teaching degree
•Completion of a writing tutoring class—many colleges require these classes for their tutors
•FBI and Child Abuse Clearances
•An understanding of learning styles
•A passion to help others learn and succeed
A balance of empathy and boundaries is necessary for writing tutors. While you may be the first person a student sees after a trying day at school, offering support while not becoming unhealthily involved in your student’s personal life can provide healthy lines for you and the student.
Be careful not to veer in the opposite direction. Not getting involved in a student’s life doesn’t mean you can’t empathize with them. It can be helpful to share that you also had tutoring during your academic career, or that certain subjects don’t “click” with you.
Vulnerability and allowing your student to see you as a person can help. The same idea should be true for your attitude towards your students. They are people dealing with their own lives at school and at home.
Now we’ve got the empathy and skills needed to become a writing tutor. Let’s sprinkle in a dash of descriptive approaches as well. While prescriptive versus descriptive approaches are usually terms applied to linguistic studies, they also apply to writing tutoring.
A prescriptive approach “describes when people focus on talking about how a language should or ought to be used,” while a descriptive approach “focuses on describing the language as it is used, not saying how it should be used,” (Reynolds, Amy).
In other words, a prescriptive approach is like a prescription. It’s a set of solid, inflexible rules about language and how it should be used when writing. Prescriptions can’t be altered without serious consequences, just as prescriptive rules of language incur lost points and lead to dejected students.
A descriptive approach to language and writing allows for more creativity. Language can be putty in a student’s hands. Taking a descriptive approach to language, and ultimately writing, allows students to get their words down on paper and start the writing process. If students are too worried about grammar rules, where commas go, and properly formatting a paper, they may never begin their assignment. Loosening those binds frees up mind space and lets creativity flow.
As an undecided undergraduate at Bloomsburg University, finding the English major and becoming a writing tutor were beneficial points in my college career. Taking the required writing tutoring course and other linguistic courses as an undergraduate led the way to me becoming a writing fellow in charge of an entire class of developmental writing students.
The fellowing experience was a significant reason I was hired as an independently contracted writing tutor, who later became a communications coordinator and freelance writing tutor. While these are all sources of my professional growth, tutoring also helped me find my place at college and in the world. Returning to campus after an extended leave was scary. The writing center, my colleagues, and training courses were not. Working as an independently contracted tutor gave me a twinkle of light in a dim world where I hated my full-time job and needed a creative, reassuring outlet for my passion.
As David Wood says in his research, “tutoring is an outgrowth of helping. Helping is an innate human propensity—we’re born to help. When people … see somebody else doing something that they themselves can do, and see them getting frustrated by not being able to do it, then there’s a perceptual invitation to get involved. Some of us feel the invitation very strongly,” which sums up how I feel about tutoring. I R.S.V.P. to that invitation immediately. I love helping students see their potential, and being present for the confidence they gain after mastering a new concept.