Response To Richard Leahy (EN-410)

Richard Leahy, among having other various credentials in the field of writing, is the director of the Writing Center at Boise State University. Leahy is passionate about this position and about the importance of Centers in general, regardless of how difficult it may be to operate one at times. Directors of Writing Centers find themselves in a remote corner of campus with little funding and support, often expected to do the work of several people in order to maintain the facility while also teaching classes. Directors also frequently seem to find themselves with a campus community that has little to no idea what their Center actually does. Writing Centers, at their core, are campus hubs where students can take their writing assignments to meet with a tutor. However, centers are meant not to just improve a singular piece of writing, but to improve a student as a writer in general. The fact that tutors cannot proofread the work brought to them is interesting because this conflicts with the common, and apparently misconceived view, as a “writing tutor” being synonymous with “editor”.

The idea of a “tutor” is one that becomes increasingly convoluted as one progresses through Leahy’s essay. In fact, Leahy characterizes this job as one that is highly complex: a third member of what would be formerly known as a “student-teacher” relationship. Tutors are not advocates for the student in opposition to the instructor, nor are they meant to be extensions of the teacher themselves, repeating what the professor has already said in a slightly different manner. I myself already tutor through the Academic Success Center, and as a result of reading this have come to realize that when I tutor classes (as opposed to a more broad topic like “writing”), I am more like a secondary instructor, simply trying to explain concepts in a different way. I have a newfound hope that my training to become a tutor for the Writing Center will help me improve my skills in tutoring other subjects as well.

Tutors must also walk a fine line between providing assistance and outright doing a client’s work for them. The anecdote Leahy adds on page 46 includes a professor asking that a tutor be spoken with under suspicion of having provided “too much help”. This scenario is mildly frightening because as someone who never wants to do anything wrong, the idea that people would be suspicious of me doing my job too well is disconcerting. It feels like one must walk a fine line between tutoring and collaboration, and then another one between collaboration and plagiarism.

Speaking of collaboration, in addition to the misconceptions about the nature of the tutoring that takes place at Writing Centers, Leahy mentions that there are many misconceptions about Centers as a whole. For instance, he says that Centers are not just meant for those writers who are in need of remedial help. Centers are also happy to provide assistance to even the strongest of writers (page 44). Leahy mentions that at his school, the Center is frequently advertised to low performing students– with some students not knowing of its existence. At Worcester State, most students are aware of the Writing Center’s existence, but are generally only encouraged to schedule an appointment if they are struggling. I personally find the idea of a non-struggling student coming for tutoring somewhat confusing, because a strong writer is likely just looking for some collaboration, such as the collaboration mentioned by Leahy on page 46. To me, the sequence of a group working collectively on a poem sounds much like group proofreading, which is what Writing Center tutors are prohibited from doing. Frankly, I worry that I would feel uncomfortable when trying to tutor someone with a firm grasp on the writing process, because generally those who tutor do so because they have a deeper understanding of the subject than the person receiving the tutoring, hence why they are able to help. Assuming that I am the “better writer” would be presumptuous if I was expected to tutor, say, another Writing Center employee.

Leahy also makes an interesting commentary on the idea of the rote “Writing Process” being one size fits all (page 46).  The best way to combat this is with teaching that is not “one size fits all”. This is where tutoring is useful because tutoring is meant to tailor instruction to the needs of the individual student, which is difficult to do in a traditional classroom setting. This is where I personally think that Writing Centers are immensely important: so many students think that they are just not good writers when in actuality they probably have not been taught to write in a way that “works” for them.

One final concern from professors that Leahy mentions is the fear that tutors are outside of their realms of expertise and are thus leading the student receiving the tutoring astray. This is a valid concern, which the WSU Writing Center combats by having each tutor specialize in a subject. The idea that we are aware of common problems and concerns that students and faculty have and are working to combat them is comforting. Overall, I hope that this course will help me feel more confident in not just my ability to tutor writing as a subject, but in my ability to write.

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