Thanks, Claire, for a thoughtful discussion on the interpersonal issues around difficult tutoring sessions. Like I said in class, I’ve never taught these three pieces together before (and I haven’t taught the “Emotionally Charged Situations” article in a long time), so it was fascinating to me to see in my reading and our discussion how much they spoke to each other. Both the writer and the consultant are human beings (with biases, emotions, baggage, distractions, attitudes, etc), and the consultation is a situation where those human thoughts and emotions are exposed and potentially come into conflict.
One thing I like in all the pieces is that they try to explore why these difficult situations or conflicts happen. Particularly in Harris’s “Talk to Me: Engaging Reluctant Writers,” there is a real recognition of the many reasons why a session might not be going well and the importance of investigating that why question to figure out how to make it go better. I love how she talks about taking a “meta-moment”—essentially interrupting the usual tutor-tutee dialogue—to talk about how the session itself is going, asking the student what’s going on and how we can make the most of the time together. I think we are often afraid to interrupt our own sessions and expose ourselves by asking such a question. Instead we think, “I’m a good tutor; I’m going to make this work and soon this student will be blown away by what a great session we are having.” We’re probably not that different than the student who comes to see us, instead of her professor, because she doesn’t want to admit her own human vulnerability. I’d like to encourage you to try talking to students about the session itself—not just their papers and their writing process—just to see what happens.
As we get busier and get less time to chat in the Center, I hope too that you can use the blog to have some of those kind of meta-moments with us. When you have a bad session, can you do as Harris suggests and “let it go”?