While I seriously doubt any of us will be tutoring the likes of Biff Tannen, there will certainly be times when we feel pressured to accommodate an aggressively “needy” writer. They bring their paper to the Writing Center assuming it will not only be “fixed”, but completely rewritten. Generally speaking, it is this student – the one that needs to be reminded several times just whose homework it really is – that comes to mind when discussing authority/ownership in tutoring. After reading this week’s prompt, that is the very student I was hoping for. With my first week of tutoring nearly ended, desperate to find an example for my post, I took one last walk-in. We were ten minutes into the session, and I knew I had found my blog.
The student had come only because he had to. His assignment was for a remedial English class where they had been working on grammar and basic sentence structure. The assignment was a short (half-page) personal essay explaining a photo and what it meant to them. There were no deep thesis statements to be made; the purpose was to compose complete sentences and utilize correct grammar. Contrary to Brook’s minimalism, the student required and deserved a more directive approach. He needed someone to “model” how the rules he was learning in class could be translated into his own essay. As we worked through the paragraph and began to recognize faulty patterns (mainly due to dialect), he seemed pleased that he could at least recall the rules. But as he read the new draft aloud, he began to frown. He set the paper down, leaned back and simply said “That’s no good. It don’t sound right. It might be right, but that’s not me. That’s not the way I talk”. I was stunned. Here before sat a young man so completely in charge of his own work that he was willing to risk a poor grade rather than correct it. Not quite sure where to go with that, I smiled and replied “Then you don’t have to change it. You are who you are. I like that you know this is your paper”. He seemed as stunned by my response as I had been with his. Instantly, his guard came down and a smile returned to his face. “Nah”, he said, “I wanna do well. Let’s go ahead and change it.”