Serving students and faculty since 1971

I’m new to the Writing Center this year, and at first, the idea of tutoring people was both exciting and a little intimidating. I actually had the chance to make my writing skills useful to others by helping them with papers and resumes and whatever else people brought in, but I kept thinking, “who am I to actually give advice?”

I’m still just a student, and I never considered myself a professional. With a 4.0 or 3.5 average in all of my English courses so far, I still don’t consider myself a professional. Even after posting my own creative writing online for about 2-3 years now, I don’t consider myself a professional. I’m still learning. I still make mistakes. I thought, “who’s going to listen to what I have to say?”

Still, I went for it. My first session went so much more smoothly than I expected. We just had a normal conversation, and they expressed to me that they wanted to touch up their resume. Having just needed to update mine to apply for my position with the writing center, this gave me a good springboard to start from. We worked together to think of good ways to phrase their job experience, and really showcase their skills. They were pleased with the results, and it was such a dopamine boost. “Maybe I can do this,” I thought, “Maybe I am good enough to help people!”

Since then, I’ve had a few challenging appointments too. Instances where I didn’t know the subject matter at all, and had no idea what they needed from me. The first couple of times it happened I was stressing out. What if I gave them bad advice or couldn’t figure out how to help them? What if they thought I was stupid because I didn’t know what some sentences meant? What if they didn’t want to come to the Writing Center again because I was a bad tutor? Things like that surged through my mind, and my fellow tutors could see it. They helped me calm down and put things into perspective.

I now realize that we are not content experts, but are generalist tutors. We are first and foremost readers and listeners, and can offer feedback and suggestions on all types of writing, from those in any field or discipline. It’s not up to us to replace the words of the professor, or to work as an editor. I’m a student with a lot of the same struggles as the people who are coming into the center. If all I can end up being is a second pair of eyes, that is still helpful.

It was really comforting to know that everyone here had my back, that I didn’t need to carry it all on my own. It helped me enjoy my future sessions. I felt calmer, more prepared, and confident enough to tell someone that I didn’t know what a word meant, or I wasn’t sure how the professor wanted them to fix a certain section because it looked fine to me. I felt comfortable knowing that it was ok to still be a novice, and that despite that perception of myself, I can be so much more.

Written By – Kay Sheffield