by Armand St. Pierre ||
As a student, I’ve faced plenty of challenges that have tested my intelligence, strength, and spirit. In the face of many, I have emerged triumphant. In the face of others, I’ve felt the brutal sting of defeat. Each time I’ve faced these challenges though, win or lose, I’ve grown stronger and wiser. These experiences have helped me grow into a capable student in my own right, but more recently, I’ve assumed the mantle of the tutor. As a tutor, I use my own experiences, both with success and failure, to help others on their journey through their education.
My role in the writing center isn’t that of the hero. I’m not a daring spy who’s willing to risk it all to defeat the empire. I’m not a noble farmer-turned-pilot who eagerly joins the rebellion to save the day, and I’m certainly not a lovable, yet sometimes selfish mercenary who owes a fortune to a vicious space slug. In the writing center, I’ve found my role, not as the protagonist to any one story, but as a guide for others who have their own empires to face. To each Luke Skywalker who walks through the doors, I become Yoda, their advisor and tutor.
As a tutor, one of my primary tasks is helping the student become more familiar with the process of writing. This often requires that I clear up misconceptions about writing—chiefly that good writing is solely the product of good spelling and good grammar. Because students have this misunderstanding about writing, they often come to the writing center with the objectives of only correcting grammar and spelling. Most of these errors could be corrected by a proper word processor. The sessions, if they progressed as many of these students intended, wouldn’t be very useful or helpful. Just as Luke had to find out from Yoda that being a Jedi isn’t all about fighting with a lightsaber, many clients have to learn that good writing is more than just the surface details. The first task for many of these sessions, then, is to change the conversation and the mindset of the client. This can be especially difficult with students who believe that the only reason they need to be in the writing center is for grammatical or spelling correction. Some grow impatient or frustrated when the conversation turns towards the concepts. In this way, I find myself in Yoda’s shoes, as if I’m making dinner for an impatient and eager Luke Skywalker. In either case, the student has come with a faulty understanding of what the tutorial is supposed to be like, and wants to get to the topics of their own agenda without going through the process thoroughly.
The amount of mysticism surrounding the writing center also contributes to the construction of this role and its environment. Despite the amount of research that exists in the field of writing center pedagogy, many people in academia still don’t understand what we do. Many of the misconceptions that students have are fostered by their professors, who see our work primarily as an editing service. Especially in the original trilogy, it seemed like most people didn’t really understand what the force, or what being a Jedi was really about. Perhaps it was because the empire was very effective at erasing their legacy. Similarly, it seems as though most professors at our institution continue to propagate misleading information about what we do at the writing center, leaving us with the daunting task of making our presence and our mission known while dispelling falsehoods.
Another frustration I share with Yoda is that some clients come to me, hoping that I will do the work for them. Many ask me “how would you say that?” or “what should I say here?”, and my job is not to tell them what to say, but find a way to get them to say it on their own. Most times, we can work out how to get their ideas on paper, but, other times, the words simply aren’t coming. It’s like watching Luke try, in vain, to lift his X-Wing out of the swamps, only to have it sink deeper into the mud.
Of course, the truth is that every student has their own power; every student can pull their own X-Wing out of the mud. The real aim of the writing center session is to help the student get there by encouraging them, giving them feedback, and just talking to them about their ideas. That’s always been the key to a good writing center session—remembering that the student is the one with the power, that they are the chosen one, and that we do our job best by helping them learn to use that power.
There are many challenges to being a writing tutor. Each student has their own empire to face and their own training to complete. Those that come regularly see the best results—After all, Luke didn’t defeat the empire alone. Like him, they seek help from someone with experience. My hope is that the students who come to the writing center leave each time with more knowledge and more confidence than when they arrived, and that each of them leaves ready for what the galaxy throws at them.
I’m from Baltimore, Maryland, and I’m currently studying mechanical engineering at Hofstra University. My interests include reading, writing, music, political philosophy, and history. I hope to one day learn both French and Icelandic, and I also plan on applying to a graduate program in either rhetoric and composition, or in creative writing.