Our course readings have raised interesting points regarding the relationship between consultant and student in the writing center. As someone who normally worries about how to develop relationships with others—my Myers-Briggs introversion tendency is a perfect 100—I feel this is something I should explore further. I am particularly concerned with establishing a comfortable environment for the students I work with in the writing center and determining whether I present myself to students as a true collaborator or as an authority figure.
The introduction to The St. Martin’s Sourcebook for Writing Tutors caused me to question whether the typical circumstances at our writing center are conducive to building strong relationships between students and consultants. Murphy and Sherwood seem to assume that most students who use writing centers visit the center several times per semester, scheduling all of their appointments with the same consultant. Unfortunately, I have only built a few of these relationships in my time at the writing center. While this may be due to a deficiency in my style, I think it is partially due to the product-driven view that most students have of their writing. It seems the typical student comes to the writing center because he or she is concerned with the assignment he or she is working on at the moment rather than with establishing regular sessions—or, as is too often the case, because his or her professor made visiting the writing center a requirement for the assignment and he or she would not be there otherwise. As a result, most students either visit the writing center only a couple of times or visit frequently but schedule their appointments with whoever is available at a particular time rather than seek out the same consultant. I would like to have a greater number of recurring appointments, since these sessions are both incredibly productive and rewarding on a personal level, but I am still trying to figure out how to achieve this goal.
My second concern regarding student/consultant relationships is establishing a collaborative peer relationship with students. In her essay “Collaboration, Control, and the Idea of a Writing Center,” Lunsford writes:
I think we must be cautious in rushing to embrace collaboration because collaboration can also be used to reproduce the status quo; the rigid hierarchy of teacher-centered classrooms is replicated in the tutor-centered writing center in which the tutor is still the seat of all authority but is simply pretending it isn’t so. (74)
I share Lunsford’s concern with the equality (or lack thereof) of the student/consultant relationship, especially since I hope to model my approach after feminist, non-hierarchical pedagogical methods. I feel that my approach when working with a student in the writing center is nearly the same as my approach when participating in peer review with a classmate; however, Lunsford’s essay caused me to question whether I should be doing more to achieve true equality, since the student/consultant relationship has been traditionally viewed as inherently unequal.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue, from your experiences as students visiting the writing center as well as your experiences as consultants. In particular, I hope you can weigh in on the following questions:
- How can we encourage students to schedule recurring appointments? When this is not possible, how can we more effectively build strong relationships with students in the 30-minute time frame?
- If you have visited our writing center as a student, did you view your consultant as a collaborator or as an authority figure?
- As a consultant, how do you (or how do you plan to) encourage students to view you as a collaborator rather than as an authority figure?
Lunsford, Angela. “Collaboration, Control, and the Idea of a Writing Center.” Murphy and Sherwood 70-77.
Murphy, Christina, and Steve Sherwood eds. The St. Martin’s Sourcebook for Writing Tutors. 4th ed. Bedford/St. Marin’s: Boston and
New York, 2011. Print.