Charles Murphy

Tutoring as Development

Charles Murphy

December 11, 2020

My biggest takeaway, as well as my biggest area of growth, this semester has been in my ability to accurately and easily explain difficult concepts to students. As a second-year master’s student working primarily as an embedded tutor at the Writing Centre, I often find that I have difficulty in explaining high-level concepts to my first-year undergraduate tutees. Often, because I’ve already gone through so many advanced classes and material, I forget how much I may have struggled with in the past to understand even the basic concepts of writing. In other words, time and experience have distanced me so much from the undergrad I used to be, that I have needed to relearn how to view university from a less advanced student’s perspective. Doing so has enabled me to sympathize with my students much better without being patronizing or condescending to them. This perspective, that of a first-year student encountering formal academic writing for the first time, allows me to start from the level where the student is at, and then work my way up the ladder of lower-to-higher order concerns together with the student. 

In addition to the above, however, I have myself also grown as a writer. Being forced to grapple with students’ errors at even a basic level has made me recognize the simple mistakes that I make in my own writing. In fact, I’ve come to realize that there are sloppy errors in how I write, but these errors are often covered up by more advanced abilities that I have mastered as a graduate student. For instance, I realized that although I can string together multiple clauses into an enormous, but grammatically accurate and nice-sounding sentence, I sometimes struggle with choosing the appropriate pronoun to properly disambiguate my meaning for my reader. However, as my pronoun is often buried in deep, dense prose, it is not readily apparent to me that I’ve made a mistake and need to correct myself. Recognizing such mistakes in my students’ work has made me recognize them in my own work, and so has helped me write better, clearer essays and papers. 

Finally, I have surprisingly benefited enormously in my development as a linguistics student. As the study of language, linguistics has a lot to offer as far as insight into how English is written; however, these insights are often mediated through dense and even obscure terminology that requires a specialist degree to understand. Being first-years, my students cannot reasonably be asked to know what an introductory gerundial phrase is, and so I have needed to become inventive in how I pass along such concepts to them. Instead of the complicated phrase I used earlier, I can simply say “dangling modifier”, which is a much more common term, and then go into how to recognize one, fix it, and then avoid such issues in the future. This benefits not only my students, but me as well, as it forces me to apply the knowledge I’ve worked so diligently to acquire for the past several years.