Tutoring at the Writing Center

- The Experience, Anique Ashraf '17

The College's Roth Writing Center offers free peer tutoring on papers and drafts for all students on campus. One becomes a tutor after being recommended to Professor Steven Shoemaker, the director of the center, after which there is an interview, a callback and a class offered in the Fall called "The Teaching of Writing." It's a 300-level English seminar. I was recommended last year by two professors, and went for my interview. (I wore my brightest paisley shirt, in an effort to be memorable.) Since English is not my first language, I want to help other non-native English speakers feel empowered through writing. I'm taking the seminar now, and as the semester winds down, the writing center is in need for more tutors. So the week before Thanksgiving, I had my first appointment. I was to tutor for the first time, finally, after the long, long process. I walked into the center five minutes early, set up my folder, took out my pen, and waited.

My first student was a first-year student who needed help with his first-year seminar. The center works this way: We ask the students to read their paper or draft out loud. If the student isn't comfortable reading aloud, we'll read it for them. The motto is to make sure the student is in the driver's seat; the tutor is a road guide, a map to the destination that the student must find themselves. I took notes as he read.

Collaborating with the tutee, working on problems, is a huge part of the job. The goal is to nudge, to prod students in a direction where their own thinking gets expanded, and to give them ideas, not to impose. This is hard for me; I love imposing myself on people most of the time. I have a specific way in which I do things, and this makes me a bit stubborn sometimes. I had to reign that in super hard when I was tutoring, and the results were a clear indication that this was the right philosophy. The student left with a better understanding of the paper, his assignment and what he might do better.

I left with an understanding of my own role in this, which is — and should be — minimal. I left with a better understanding of how my professors must feel when students don't understand what they're trying to do. Their job is hard. A teacher doesn't teach knowledge, I discovered. They teach the process of knowledge. The knowledge must be acquired oneself. I left knowing that our jobs as students are also hard: We have to come to conclusions ourselves, with the road map of learning in front of us. The destination is ours to conquer. This is a responsibility I felt heavy on my shoulders as I walked out, but it gave me more incentive to learn vicariously. If I'm being trusted as a student to make my own contribution, the responsibility also gave me agency. And students need agency to learn creatively. Most of all, I left with a giant amount of respect for this learning environment. If one doesn't take responsibility for one's own learning, everything falls apart. You can flourish or you can fail. The decision is in your hands, and that's kind of liberating. It means you're taken seriously. That's the path to adulthood, not regurging knowledge. It felt good to know.

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Winter break reflections

- The Experience, Rebecca Seidemann '18

On Aug. 21, 2014, the names of my fellow classmates were meaningless to me. They were just different arrangements of letters floating around in different combinations on the Class of 2018's Facebook page. I had no way of knowing which of these names would come to develop meaning for me. I had even less of an idea what type of meaning, and to what degree, these names would take on.

5 letters: Julia. She made a Facebook post about majoring in biology and watching movies, and now we sit together for almost every meal.

4 letters: Emma. She commented on a post about music. Now we have matching star earrings in matching piercings.

Of course, there are many more names I've come to know, and lots belonging to upperclassman, making it more unlikely that I would've been able to guess which names would soon become a significant part of my life.

With the new year starting, I look at these names differently. All of these names are connected to all of these faces that I'm used to seeing every day. Right now, I sit at home during winter break and I'm not seeing these people every day anymore. I'm with my family and my friends are scattered across the country — in fact, some even extend past the U.S. borders. I was perfectly content here before college, but now I find I'm missing something. I've had all of these experiences in college with all of these new, wonderful people and now they aren't with me.

I find myself pointing out camels on everything I see and texting pictures to my new friends — even if the camels are just plastered onto cigarette advertisements at gas stations. When I see signs for Connecticut marked as "Conn," I feel like I have a special knowledge shared only between the ethereal, camel sign-maker (who must indeed be behind the creation of the sign) and myself. They pose as a reminder of the connection that I now have to this other facet of life.

At this point, it seems strange imagining what my life would have been like had I picked a different school, or even had I taken different classes or lived in a different dorm. Often, my friendships with people come down to being in the right place at the right time. Other times, they come from taking a risk: auditioning for something, or attending a club meeting that you're not even a part of. All of these seemingly random decisions I've made over the years have led me to this college and these friends and now, after a few weeks of winter break crossed off the calendar, I can very much say that I'm missing both of those things right now. 

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