Tutoring students who have learned English as a second language can be quite challenging, since these students may have difficulty understanding the point they hope to get across in their assignments. In Muriel Harris’s “Cultural Conflicts in the Writing Center: Expectations and Assumptions of ESL Students” she focuses on the preconceived notions that these students bring to the tutorial which can hinder the session. Majority of ESL students perceive tutors as someone who can assist with problems, when really tutors are there to focus on writing, on a larger scale. It is important to decipher what your particular student expects from you as a tutor. Harris explains how “ESL students, then, perceive tutors to be more immediately helpful, more approachable, more practical, and more personal than teachers are, but the students expect tutors to work on errors and difficulties in specific pieces of discourse, not on the larger, more abstract level of writing skills and processes” (210). It is true that tutors are more approachable and are there to assist the student one-on-one, but the session is not based around a particular paper, but rather a method of writing. Tutors are there to help the student learn how to become a better writer.
I think it is critical to explain to the student on the first session what the goals of tutoring are. If that student expects his or her tutor to edit their rough draft, then they are in the wrong place. By editing the assignment the tutor is handicapping the student even more, because they are not learning how to become a better writer. In this instance, they are simply correcting what the tutor points out, regardless of if they understand what the problem is or not.
This semester I have had the opportunity to tutor a young man from Guyana, Africa. I was extremely, genuinely interested in his culture and life here in the United States, and I feel as though those few minutes I spent talking with him at the first session set a tone for the rest of the sessions. It told him that although I cannot understand how difficult it is to try and master a second language, I do care about his lifestyle, and more so, his success in education. I mentioned that I am a Spanish major and I completely relate to the difficulty of writing in a foreign language, and I noticed this connection we shared made him feel more comfortable. As our sessions have progressed I have watched him grow as a writer and become more comfortable reading, writing, and understanding text in the English language. If each tutor took those extra 5 minutes or so to get to know the person they are tutoring and their cultural backgrounds, then they would have a much easier time making connections with them and assisting them in their writing process.