Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Those Who Come Shall Be Comforted By Nathan Crews

At our orientation day for the writing center at Eastern Illinois University, I confessed early on that I felt overwhelmingly nervous about having to show students how to improve their writing and suspected I was wholly inadequate to tutor. I had not had a writing center at my undergraduate university. I had never even visited a writing center. In my mind, there was no way I could live up to the task before me. The directors heard me out and let me talk through my fears. Then they reassured me—“you will be fine.” That comfort was followed by the best news of the day. They were not, in fact, expecting me to be superman or to know everything about the entire English language. This sounds a bit stupid, but I did think I was supposed to know everything about writing and grammar and the entire English language. I thought I had to know every little detail about proper MLA citations on papers or every single instance a comma should be inserted or deleted. Before my directors gave any advice on what to do or how to do it, they comforted me and helped me to settle down.

My first day as a writing center tutor laid the blueprint for how all other sessions were to go. I came to the writing center and opened myself up about the ways I felt uncomfortable or insecure. I was quickly comforted in my insecurity and given some direction that made me feel more at ease. We do this all the time. This is essentially one of the points of the writing center—comforting students when they are exasperated, talking with students about their apprehensions. Students constantly come into the writing center feeling uneasy, with questions about their papers or their overall writing styles. At the start of a tutoring session, there is always a bit of awkwardness because students are laying their mistakes and insecurities bare in front of someone who they perceive is more knowledgeable than they are. This is an act of vulnerability and wisdom. It is pretty rare that we do this in our life, admit our shortcomings and seek help. Yet, we almost always find comfort in our distress when we do this. A lot of people don’t feel confident in their writing. A lot of English majors don’t feel comfortable in their writing. The beauty of a writing center is that it is there to provide comfort and guidance.

So much of what tutors do in the writing center do is emotional reassurance. “Yes, you have strong ideas here. I love the way you wrote this here.” We also deliver constructive thoughts gracefully. As a reader, this is a bit confusing. How can we make this better? A common feeling among students who leave writing center sessions is relief. I realized a day or two ago that I end every tutoring session with the question, “How do you feel about this paper?” I don’t ask, do you think this paper is good? Do you think this paper is going to get a good grade? I am always asking if students are feeling more confident in their abilities, more attuned to their personal style, less anxious about the process of writing a paper.

There are many reasons to come to the EIU writing center, but finding some comfort in the difficult process of writing a single collegiate paper is one of the best ones. The writing center is not for people who are bad at writing, it is for everyone who is seeking some reassurance. There are grad students who come to the writing center. There are tutors who ask to do sessions with other tutors. Admitting our vulnerabilities and asking for guidance is a good principle for life, but at the very least, it is a great idea for writing. If you find yourself stuck and frustrated, holding back tears in the library or at Starbucks surrounded by a bunch of old men and junior high students or in front of your roommate’s cat, come to room 3110 in Coleman hall to the writer center. We will ask you the first question we ask everyone—"What can I do to help you?"

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