What’s your teacher really thinking? Let’s ask a student writing instructor!
To start with, yes, we know you don’t want to be here. We recognize that this is a chore, that if you actually enjoyed writing you’d do it on your own, and you wouldn’t need us to help. Writing is a lot like going to the gym—it’s hard to do, even harder to get motivated, you sweat a lot, and you tend to surround yourself with a bunch of jerks. But if you never exercise, you’ll never get stronger, and if you never write, you’ll never get better. So yes, we know you have better places to be. But please pretend like you don’t. If you act like you halfway want to be here, we’ll work that much harder to help (mostly because you’ve flattered us, but also because we think you might have a talent worth nurturing).
That feeds into the second important point: do not, under any circumstances, act like this is a service to which you are entitled. I mean, on the one hand, yes, it is our job and you are paying for us—your tuition money goes towards our paychecks, just like our tuition money goes towards your new lacrosse fields or 500-seat blackbox theaters or whatever. But on the other hand, if you walk into the academic resource center and act like we’re particularly eloquent spellcheck software instead of real people, you are not going to get very good writing advice.
Oh, and by the way, it really is advice. As in, it’s something you should consider. Like, really consider. Like, I-went-to-the-doctor-and-he-told-me-I-would-die-if-I-ever-ate-another-pickled-turkey kind of advice. Knowing how to write well isn’t necessary in every job, but knowing how to not write poorly is. If you come in night after night with the same comma errors and uncapitalized personal pronouns, we get the feeling that you aren’t hearing us, and if there’s one thing writers like, it’s to be listened to. If we think you aren’t internalizing the advice we give you, we’re going to stop giving it.
Before I forget: we know when you’ve read SparkNotes. Yeah, it’s actually really, really obvious. I suppose it’s possible that you could have inserted original ideas about Holden Caulfield’s hypocrisy into your typo-riddled, sentence-fragment laden paper in the same way it’s possible that a bird could drop a turtle from 1,000 feet and knock a foul ball back into play. You don’t have to lie to us; in many cases, students go to SparkNotes when they don’t understand what’s going on, and writing instructors are more than happy to explain confusing parts.
Foreign exchange students: We are not qualified to teach ESL (English as Second Language). We just aren’t. We’re skinny, beardy English majors whose only exposure to Chinese was in Firefly. We can explain to you the nature of an assignment and even help with your composition, but we don’t have the time or talent required to actually instill an understanding of written English. Learning those rules is hard enough for native speakers, and we can’t afford to spend two hours explaining prepositions when there’s a line forming.
Don’t text while we’re trying to help you. It’s incredibly disrespectful, and yes, shockingly enough, we can tell if you’re doing it under the table while we’re talking to you (don’t try to understand how. It’s a form of dark magic they teach us when we fill out our W-2 forms).
Don’t argue with us. Please, just don’t. We welcome dialogue, and if you have a question about one of the changes we made, or even think we did something wrong, please tell us. But don’t be confrontational. Sit back for a minute and think about the fact that the English major getting paid to read papers might know what he’s talking about.
Have a hard copy. Yes, eight cents a sheet at the library is draconian, but we don’t care if it’s single-spaced, ten-point font. It’s so, so much easier to edit a hard copy. For one thing, it’s a pain to keep hitting the ‘Comment’ button. For another, it’s way easier to show someone something when you don’t have to keep tilting the screen to prevent a glare. And finally, if you plunk down your laptop on the table, that means we have to close ours, and X-Com always crashes if you exit the window. So make it easy on us, and kill some trees.
Don’t tell us what the assignment is, show us a handwritten paragraph, and tell us it’s due in two hours. We’re not here to write your papers for you. We are here to help them be the best they can be. If you want to get a nerd to do your work, consider going into the field of 80s high school movie bullying. But this is college, and we don’t scare. Don’t expect us to finish your eight-page investigation of Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.”
Tell us right away how your professor wants citations done. Most right-thinking teachers will assign MLA format, but you get the odd APA or Chicago. It matters, and if we think you’re supposed to be MLA and you’re writing in Turabian, we’re going to mark all over your paper. You’ll save us a lot of trouble if you tell us your paper is supposed to look like that.
Finally, just treat us like human beings. We see a lot of people on any given night, and a little bit of appreciation can go a long way towards pushing back the inevitable “drinking alone” phase of a writing tutor’s life.
Ross is a freelance writer and not-so-freelance barista operating out of middle Georgia. He has a Bachelor’s of Arts in Creative Writing from Mercer University, where he worked as a teaching assistant, writing instructor, and press house editor. He currently divides his time between throwing empty whiskey bottles at his English degree and writing Wu-Tang Clan fanfiction. If you want to read more of Ross’s writing, you can check out his blog, Later I Will Destroy This Earth!, or Planet Ivy, where he pretends to be British. If you want to follow someone on Twitter who doesn’t have a lot to say, check him out on Twitter @AtomicSleepwalk. He knows more about the Atomic Knights than anyone else on the internet.
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