Feelings of Incompetency

Feelings of Incompetency

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Feelings of Incompetency

In my experiences at the Writing Resource Center, I have found that the biggest area of concern that I have run into is the feeling that I am an ineffective tutor as far as tutoring the students that come in search of writing assistance. I feel that I am a very inadequate means of relief for these people, yet they still come to me for help. In this paper, I will explore these thoughts and try to find out what it is that makes me feel so ineffective.

In recent discussions with my peers at the Writing Resource Center, I have found that, though these feelings of inadequacy are somewhat consistent throughout the center, I feel that my feelings are a bit more strong when it comes to that of helping the student. I feel that what I am doing in helping the student is exactly what we're taught not to do, as far as assisting.

The most glaring thing that I feel that I am doing wrong is that when I read a paper that is loaded with commas, I tend to point them out without much help from the tutee. Take the following paragraph, for example (which is a rough copy from a tutee of mine - who wasn't a foreigner to our country):

Snowmobiles, on the other hand, are, for example, a very effective, yet costly, means of transportation. They are, as said before, expensive, but, the fact that they're worth it only enhances their, let's say, worthiness. I mean, you can buy one, for cheap, but, on the other hand, why buy a cheap one when spending a little bit more would mean fewer problems down the road.

Now, after reading this paragraph, I read it aloud to him exaggerating the pauses wherever the commas were placed. Next, I asked him to tell me if the whole paragraph sounded strange to him or not. He promptly replied that it sounded perfectly fine.

Upon hearing this, I tried a different approach: I had him paraphrase, or restate, what he was trying to say in the paragraph while I wrote it down. I then had him read what I had just written down and asked him what he felt about that for his paragraph instead of the one that he had on his paper. He abruptly said "no" and looked at me defiantly.

Next, after trying to tell him how commas were supposed to function in a sentence, I asked him again if he felt that there were any places in his paragraph that seemed awkward and/or over "comma-ized.

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" I suggested to him, "try finding a place where a comma or two could be taken out and replaced with a conjunction, or something along those lines."

He looked over the paper for a minute and seemed to sincerely answer "I can't find anything wrong."

By this time I was at a loss for ideas. I could not figure out what to do next, so I took the old high school approach and pointed out the first place in which I thought a comma could be taken out and I replaced it with a phrase. I then asked him what he thought about the change that I suggested and he seemed to just shrug his shoulders and accept it, as if he were accepting defeat. I then asked him to find the next spot in which he felt there could be improvements. He reluctantly complied and pointed out another comma and sheepishly asked if that comma could be replaced with a word. I immediately tried to build up confidence by smiling and telling him that that was exactly what I was going to suggest in changing that sentence to make it more readable for the professor. I urged him to find another one, but this method also failed, as he could not find any other such errors in his work. The more I pushed, the less he looked; the more I helped, the less he worked. I could not do anything without getting even more frustrated at this student.

I forced myself to remain calm; I paused for a minute to collect my thoughts. I wanted to ask him why he was at the center if he wouldn't let me help him, but I knew that that wasn't the problem, this man was just unlearned in the mechanics of grammar. I asked him again if there was anything in particular that he wanted me to look at and help him out with, to which he replied, "well, just everything, I guess."

Again, I found myself getting uptight, so I forced myself to breathe steadily. I looked at the paper again and I looked up and asked him if he knew why he changed the last comma to a word instead of just leaving it as a comma. He shrugged his shoulders and just regurgitated what I had told him originally about commas. So, I slowly repeated what he said and reworded it so that someone in first grade could understand what I was talking about. He again shrugged and looked down at his paper.

Finally, I pointed to the next error in the paragraph and said "this won't work, it needs to be reworked." He took a few guesses at what it was that I was looking for and failed, so I said, "try replacing it with the word...," (whatever the word was, I forgot.) I found myself doing this for the rest of the paper and, after the tutee left, I found myself truly at a loss of self-confidence. I felt like I didn't help the student at all, I simply did his work for him. I couldn't believe it!

After mulling the whole situation over in my head for hours that night, I came up with the conclusion that if the students can't understand what it is that I'm trying to get across to them, why should I even be working here?

My theory was reinforced the next day as another student, a freshman who was raised in the immediate area, came to me for help. His biggest problem was also that of comma usage.

I began by reading his paper over very carefully and explaining to him the rules of comma usage. I then had him reread his three page paper and identify any spots in which he felt that, now knowing the theory behind commas, there were any misuses of the comma. He complied, looked up after rereading his work, and proudly said that he felt that his paper followed all of the writing conventions that he could think of. I asked him then to read a selected paragraph out loud and exaggerate each comma that was in it with a two second pause. I told him to try and figure out which commas sounded appropriate and which ones didn't. He did as I asked, but couldn't find anything wrong with his piece. He simply said that everything sounded fine.

Upon hearing this, I asked him what it was that he wanted me to help him with. In response to this, he simply said, "Well, I don't know. My friends just told me to come down here and let you folks help me out with whatever it is that you find wrong with it."

(Now, the following's a point in my work in which I felt that my whole plan backfired:)

After his reply, I said, "Okay, but you need to work with me. I'm not going to tell you every little aspect of your paper that I feel's going to count against you when the professor grades it, I want you to help look over it with me."

To this, he replied, "Well, I don't see anything wrong with my paper, so see ya later," and he got up and left.

I was shocked to say the least; I did not expect a reply like that. What I expected him to do was to buckle down and, as a team, we would conquer the paper, but the very opposite happened. I tried to call him back, but he seemed content with his paper and he continued on.

I realize that I tried numerous ways in which to get the tutees to identify their errors, and I realize that not all of the sessions will go as hoped, but I feel that the students missed what I was trying to say because of something that I could have done differently. I feel that, if I could have presented their problems in a better manner, we could have worked their problems out easier as a team, instead of me just fixing everything for them.

Therefore, for the reasons stated above, I feel that I am a weak link to the Writing Resource Center and I now realize that I need to focus more on the guiding aspect of teaching, and/or assisting, instead of just finding the problems and fixing them. To me, finding the problems in the paper are second nature, but in helping them realize what they have done wrong, and how they are going to go about and fix them is still a big area in which I need to work on.
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