I did not know what to expect when I applied to be a peer tutor about a year and a half ago. I had been nominated for the position by my English 125 teacher and, not taking too much time to consider my motives, I sent in an application. My application essay discussed an anecdote, in which a tutor at my high school’s writing center helped me to discover my own voice not only as a writer, but as a person. I emphasized my intention to work with students towards this same goal. A noble cause, but a somewhat single faceted one. Reading over that application now, I realize that I underestimated what peer tutoring could mean for me. To be fair to my Freshmen self, I had no idea that peer tutoring could be anything more than just that. I could never have imagined the detailed and rich subculture that is the writing center environment.
Helping students improve as writers is and will always be the main goal of the Sweetland Peer Tutoring Center. I can marshal out numerous examples of my own involvement in this effort; stories that I take a lot of personal pride in. But as I look back on the past year and consider the most exciting things that I have learned regarding the writing center, they each have to do with the organization itself. Few people are privy to this secret world of nuances. I think that anyone who wants to become a peer tutor should know about it.
One of the first things that I discovered about writing centers is the surprising amount that has been written about them. Several academic journals are dedicated entirely to writing centers. Writing center conferences take place annually. Entire books analyze the validity and effectiveness of their practices. So what about this peculiar space encourages these dissections? On one level, as I mentioned before, writing center theorists are enthusiastic about making writing centers as useful to their students as possible. They refine, cross-examine, nit-pick to make writing centers more effective in achieving their main mission. But this is not the only reason. There is a second, less obvious cause that becomes evident when working at a writing center. The writing center is a microcosm of larger society; where conflicts, pressures and pleasures are played out on a smaller, more personal scale. You can learn a lot about the world around you by working at a writing center.
One example in particular comes to mind. In a recent staff meeting, we peer tutors discussed the topic of attire in the writing center. I was not thrilled to find this meeting on the schedule because I thought it would be a tedious lecture on the dress-code policy. Instead, we examined the reality of the situation, explaining to each other what we thought was appropriate to wear. Before we knew it, these explanations had drawn gendered lines around the concept of appropriateness and shed light on the vagaries of the policy. By the end of the meeting, we were delving into high concept gender studies arguments, an occurrence that I think surprised everyone in the room. From the small case study of the writing center, we extrapolated into more prevalent topics. This is just one of many instances. These sorts of discussions happen nearly every day at a writing center. If you want to be a part of them, I wholeheartedly encourage you to apply for the position.
-Jamie Nadel, Sweetland Center for Writing Peer Tutor
Visit our Sweetland Peer Tutor Program page for more information about the program. Applications and more information on the application process are available on our Become a Peer Tutor page. Applications are due October 30th.