Scary Tutor

scary tutor (ˈsker-ē ˈtü-tər)* NP. a tutor who deliberately intimidates his/her tutee to reinforce his/her point. See also tough love

I try to be a fairly laid-back tutor. Occasionally, though, I find myself in a situation when my typical tutoring personalities just aren’t going to cut it. In those circumstances, I resort to a very specific tutor face: the scary tutor.

What is a scary tutor? A scary tutor is a tutor who lays all the cards on the table for the student without mincing words in order to impress the gravity of a situation onto that tutee. Playing scary tutor on the average nervous writer is not a good idea. When does this “scary tutor” come out? Here are a few examples in my own Writing Center consultant career where I have decided to use the scary tutor routine:


1) Students who come in with essay exams and no written permission

Academic honor code violations, for me, automatically warrant the scary tutor. When a student comes in with an essay exam, I sit the student down and explain exactly what could happen if we looked over the paper. In these circumstances, the student gets the absolute worst case scenario version, the one that involves professors being angry and possible expulsion. Of course, the chances of the student actually being expelled for going to the Writing Center with an essay exam without written consent is pretty minimal, but the point I want to get across is that academia take its honor codes friggin’ seriously. This whole monologue is delivered in an I’m-sympathetic-to-your-plight-but-my-hands-are-tied tone of voice because needing consent has probably never crossed the student’s mind before this moment. Still, it’s not a lesson I want them to forget.


2) Students whose work contains plagiarism

Non-ESL students who plop direct quotes in their paper without quotation marks or any sign of citation get the same talk as students who come with essay exams, only in a far more serious tone.


3) Students who come in the day an assignment’s due

I’m not talking about the rare student who’s been going to the Writing Center regularly for help on a big project and has just one more question before he/she turns the final draft of his/her precious writing baby. I’m talking about the students who come in, slap their draft on the desk, and ask you to fix _____ because they have to turn the thing in today. Typically, this situation involves a simple, “Okay, let’s see what we can get through. Keep in mind, though, that since the paper is due so soon, we won’t be able to focus on any big issues.” That’s not so much scary tutor as it is just letting the student know not to blame the Writing Center if the paper doesn’t go well. Scary tutor comes out on the more severe end of this spectrum. An example of “more severe”: I had a student come in with revisions for intro to lit, due that day. The student didn’t bring revisions because such revisions did not yet exist. The professor had refused to give the student a grade because the significance of the essay needed substantial work. The student wanted the paper “fixed.” I told the student flat out that the paper could not be fully revised in a few hours.


4) At your discretion, really. When you don’t think anything else is going to work and the student really needs to know how things are going to go down.


Of course, the trick to scary tutor is that it’s not the same as playing bad cop. When I become the scary tutor, I don’t want to make the student feel horrible. I don’t want to make the student feel stupid or send the student to the bathroom crying. “Scary tutor” is also very different from “angry tutor.” I want the student to be just nervous enough to realize how serious the situation is, and then, if I can, I want to show the student what to do next and how to avoid the situation in the future.



*This phonetic spelling has been lovingly commandeered from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. I, unfortunately, do not possess powers of phonetic transcription.

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