Tutoring vs Editing- Helping vs Hurting

The following is a response to: “Minimalist Tutoring” by Jeff Brooks & “Collaboration Is Not Collaboration Is Not Collaboration: Writing Center Tutorials vs Peer-Response Groups” by Muriel Harris

I feel like my blog posts for the past couple of months have thematically gravitated towards my relationship with writing—and the difficult journey we embark on when we commit to something we love.

I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I signed up for “Theory and Practice of Tutoring and Writing.” The more I learn about writing, the more I realize how little I know. Everything I was ever taught about peer tutoring in school was a complete waste. Jeff Brooks and Muriel Harris showed me the light. In an intellectual and thoughtful manner, mind you, that made me feel even more terrible about all the times I tried to “help” people with their papers in the past.

Writing is a journey without a destination—so you gotta enjoy the ride and stop expecting perfection from imperfect individuals.

You see, I may have helped my friends perfect their papers, but I didn’t help them improve as writers—because “when you ‘improve’ a student’s paper, you haven’t been a tutor at all: you’ve been an editor” (Harris, 2). Which is probably why the next time they asked me to help with their papers, I saw the same persistent issues.

Writing is so instinctual for me. I used to be so terrible at explaining that instinctual process to someone else. Now, I realize that showing them how well I can write is not my job. It is not my job to fix their paper for them. And it is not my job to point out all the grammatical errors. That is editing—and this “points out the central difficulty [I] confront as [a tutor: I] sit down with imperfect papers, but [my] job is to improve [my friends as] writers,” by helping them recognize their recurring problems, and helping them realize their capability (Harris, 2). They can fix their own mistakes. The student can do it. They just need to take a little advice from Nike’s slogan: “Just do it.”

I must aim to be the constant, ever-encouraging, Nike slogan, in the life of my tutees.

Brooks and Harris made me realize that I need to relinquish power and give up control when tutoring. The tutoring sessions must be student-led. My goal is ultimately to improve them as a writer. If I am fixing all of their mistakes in the paper at hand, they will come back with the same problems, like I’ve learned in the past. After all, “when we refuse to edit, we become more active than ever as educators” (Brooks, 2). I must remember that the “primary objective in the writing center session is not the paper, but the student. Fixing flawed papers is easy; showing the students how to fix their own papers is complex and difficult” (Brooks, 4).

Editing is counter-productive, and I realized, it is the lazy approach. I tend to resort to editing when I have a time constraint because I am stressed out and don’t know which errors to address first. But, this is wrong. It is not my fault if someone comes to me last minute asking me for help. I am not a miracle-worker, and it is not my job to write their paper for them. After all, students are assigned papers for the purpose of learning. ‘The process is far more important the product.”

This makes me think of a Comparative Politics class I took freshmen year. I wrote this extensive paper titled: “The History of Lebanon: Imperialism and the Repercussions.” I wrote my paper disproving my Professor’s prompt insinuating that Arabs were inherently undemocratic, and instead focused on the west’s involvement in the Middle East, and their purposeful role in preventing stability in the region. I cited the Constitution of Medina under Prophet Mohammad’s Arab Empire to disprove his claim that Arabs were inherently undemocratic before I used Lebanon as a direct case study. After all, a united Arab population could be threatening to the West’s power with their sheer numbers and natural resources.

My professor wasn’t exactly pleased with my approach, and that paper remains the only “B-” I have ever gotten on a paper in college.

I was so upset at first—especially because I asked him ahead of time if I could take this approach. But now, I realize how much I learned about my ancestors. “Students write to learn, not to produce the perfect paper”—no matter who is judging or determining what grade the paper deserves (Harris). The goal was achieved—I learned.

And I am learning now.

The next time I tutor a student, I will keep that student in charge. I will sit next to them, and position myself farther away from the paper. I will try not to write on their paper, while encouraging them to highlight their mistakes on their own. “A tutor who frequently tells students what to do is not a particularly effective or appropriate tutor, but a writing group member offering ‘try this/ that’ comments is developing the ability to find revising solutions for a draft in progress at the same time that the writer is developing the ability to weigh possibilities” (Harris, 377). Because ultimately, “[a] tutor, is a hybrid, somewhere between a peer and a teacher, who cannot learn too much one way or the other” (Harris, 380).

I will actively try and implement my new-found knowledge into my future tutoring sessions. I will try and put this theory into practice. And, believe it or not, I just made that connection to the name of this class: “Theory and Practice of Tutoring and Writing”—you really get what you sign up for. (Good job, Morgan.)

My efficacy as a tutor will take time. I will have to learn, it will be a journey for me. Writing is a process. I don’t know when the end of my journey will be, so I’m just trying to enjoy the ride.

Works Cited

Brooks, Jeff. “Minimalist Tutoring: Making the Student Do All the Work.” The Writing Lab Newsletter. 15.6 (1991): 1-7

Harris, Muriel. “Collaboration is not collaboration if not collaboration: Writing center tutorials vs. peer-response groups.” College Composition and Communication. 43.3 (1992): 369-383.

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