Power and Authority in Peer Tutoring” got me to take a hard look at my experience with the “imposter syndrome” in regards to working at the writing center. Carino is pretty invested in the ethics of tutoring—whether tutors should use “nondirective” methods, whether they can assume more than the title of a “fix it shop” worker* whether maintaining the “safe house metaphor” contradicts with more authoritarian tutorship… it goes on (Carino 102)…
It struck me that these ethics are so challenging to navigate because they are in the context of “peerness” (Carino 97). Maybe things wouldn’t be so nerve-wracking if we were editing 6th graders’ essays on Atticus Finch’s moral compass, instead of commenting on insanely intricate explications of William Blake. But there’s this enormous pressure because the students we’re helping are in our same academic position. It’s hard to remind myself that being a writing partner is not about being as good of a writer as the student with which I’m working…it’s about honing skills to help that student! At least that’s what I think—correct me if I’m wrong Pam!
Carino helped me to consider some ways to rethink my feelings of being an imposter. I really appreciated his affirmation of authority in the context of a consultation, as authority helps “to transmit knowledge and power to direct the student for the purpose of helping him complete the task” (Carino 106). This idea helped me to understand that a student benefits from concrete advice and that a partner’s feelings of uncertainty or concern for impeding on a students’ individual progress can actually hamper the student’s progress.
I tend to phrase my critique to students as suggestions that they might use to better their paper. I often ask students their feelings about the suggestions immediately after I offer them. Do you all think that this is a good practice? Should I be more or less directive—should I wait for them to respond before asking for the response?
Carino points out “every tutor cannot be expert in all types of writing” (Carino 107), but he also stresses the importance that the theatre major shared her knowledge about the standards of a play review. I have definitely seen his first point hold true while working at the writing center. So often, the consultation evolves based on what the professor has established as the priorities. It seems that “types of writing” really translate as “types of professors” at Pomona—what is this professor looking for and how can you meet that expectation? I’m thinking that if each class and professor is so idiosyncratic in expectations of “types of writing,” no tutor is going to be a real expert in any type. With this mentality in mind, I’m more comfortable with assuming an authoritative role.
I felt a little like Carino’s theatre major during my consultation today. I told my student about one of my professor’s key questions—“what work does this do?” I consider this advice authoritative in that I offered a specific tool. But I think it worked because it was a piece of advice that I learned as a student myself. Maybe if we structure our authoritative tutoring around our own experiences as a tutee, the authoritativeness won’t come across as superiority.
* Where the heck did this phrase come from? Did North coin it?