The Writing Tutor’s Role
December 14, 2021
This semester was my first at the writing centre, and I learned a lot from this experience in several ways. Specifically, I want to focus on the writing tutor’s role. For me, coming from a background as an independent ESL tutor/teacher, I already had a grasp of what it looked like to work one-on-one with students, especially online, since that is the format of most of my ESL experience. Because of this, the technology was not an issue for me. However, it definitely required some adjustment to become accustomed to helping students revise their essays and other written assignments, since this was not an area I had much experience in with my ESL students. Working with students across disciplines and writing genres that were unfamiliar to me was also a challenge. It has been rewarding over the course of the semester to see growth in my understanding of my role as a writing tutor.
First, I realized the writing tutor is not a TA. Although as embedded tutors we are assigned to a specific class, our roles differ from TAs in several ways. For example, we are not responsible for grading the students’ work or even being present in all class sessions. We are simply to be familiar with the course requirements, maintain contact with the professor about their expectations and students’ needs, and encourage students to attend writing centre sessions. Furthermore, we are not exclusively dedicated to our embedded class, which means we must balance our responsibility to assist other students outside of our embedded class. I observed this balance shifting as the semester progressed. Towards the beginning of the semester, I spent more time and effort connecting with my embedded class and establishing relationships with those students. As the middle and end of the semester approached, the major writing assignments in my embedded class were already complete, and more of my time was spent in sessions with students from a variety of other classes. These elements demonstrate the difference in role between a writing tutor and a TA.
Second, the writing tutor is a coach. I really loved this aspect of being a writing tutor—that I was not merely answering a list of questions for students and was not “editing” their work, but rather, I had opportunities to coach them on the path to success in writing. I was able to encourage students during the sessions and reduce the stress or uncertainty they were feeling about their writing. I think embracing the role as a peer tutor, specifically, helped me maximize the effect of this role as a coach. I was able to relate to students as a fellow student yet be someone who in most cases did not know their professors. Maintaining this neutral stance allowed me to approach their difficulties with a fresh perspective and share empathy for their experiences.
Finally, a necessary aspect of the writing tutor’s role was understanding how to work with students from diverse disciplines. Normally, we think of a tutor as being an expert in a given subject. However, as writing tutors, we are usually not experts in the subjects students are working on. Our expertise and assistance is mainly in assisting others to express their ideas clearly in a structured manner (Greiner, 2000). Being a new writing tutor, it took me some time to become familiar with the types of assignments different courses required, as well as different instructions professors would give for the same assignment across other course sections. I learned how important it was to ask students about their assignment instructions, rubric, and professor’s expectations. Gathering this information allows tutors to address higher order concerns and structure the session efficiently according to the most important element in the student’s work. These aspects could then be addressed through effective questions to guide students to think critically about their work and identify ways to more clearly express their ideas.
In conclusion, I am grateful to say I have grown in my understanding and embodiment of the writing tutor role. In the future, I hope to continue developing a wide range of strategies to assist students from a variety of individual backgrounds and disciplines.
Greiner, A. (2000). Tutoring in unfamiliar subjects. In B. Rafoth (Ed.) A tutor’s guide: Helping writers one to one (pp. 115–119). Heinemann Boynton/Cook.