As I was reading “Cultural Conflicts in the Writing Center: Expectations and Assumptions of ESL students” by Muriel Harris, I thought back to my first day in school in the United States. I was new to this country and had to take ESL class in school. I realized that what Harris was discussing about the ideas and opinions about teaching or learning of the tutors and the ideas of the ESL students do really clash. ESL students, as Harris elucidates, come from educational backgrounds that are different from the United States teaching or learning strategies. Some ESL students are not used to the freedom of sharing their thoughts and ideas with the teacher or professor and feel uncomfortable in that environment. Therefore, they tend to expect much more from their tutoring sessions where they can voice their questions about anything they do not understand. Some ESL students as Harris explained believe that, “Tutors works with you to fix mistakes or solve your problems” (Harris 4). However, solving the problems of the students is not the aim of the tutors in the writing center. They have a greater goal to help the students understand what their mistakes are and how the students can solve their problems themselves. In my tutoring sessions, I always try to catch the problem areas of the students but I do not tell them directly. Instead, I make them concentrate on a certain part of their paper and ask them questions such as, what do you think is missing here or why is this wrong. I basically try to build a discussion on the weak areas of the papers which would eventually help them see what they keep messing up on even after the tutoring sessions are over. They can be a critic of their own papers and solve their problems once they know how to find them.
Harris discusses “Tutors having been trained in the theory of pedagogy of writing centers, are often just as bewildered and frustrated by these students, who may resist the roles tutors want to assign them” (Harris 2). This case is probably seen by most of the tutors in the Plangere writing center even with the students who are not from another country. One of my students would try to get the answer out of me rather than trying to concentrate on the exercises I would ask him to do to get the answer himself. Some students only care about the grade they get instead of learning how to be a better writer. They just want to know what will get them an A in class. From the tutor’s perspective, this could get frustrating because the tutors try really hard to come up with strategies that will help a particular student catch their mistakes and learn from them and when a student is not ready to compromise it could get annoying. It is like the saying “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”. Tutors want to teach the students how to become better writers.
However, I do agree with Harris on building student-tutor relationships by getting to know the backgrounds and making the students feel more comfortable about their environment. If the tutors of the ESL student know how tutoring was in a student’s home country, they would consider the situation more without getting frustrated. The tutors can try placing themselves in the student’s shoes and understand what differences the students are facing.
Being originally from another country, I related myself with Xiaomin Cai, Asian tutor in American writing center, and felt that being from another country does help one tutor people from different countries because we can relate to them and understand what the students are going through. This makes the writing sessions more productive as the student knows that the tutor understand his or her problems and the tutor knows that the student is comfortable knowing that the tutor cares, this way the student is more likely to try to gain something from the tutoring session by playing an active role.
Lastly, I believe that the tutors do need to make their students more comfortable in the writing center environment so both the tutor and the student gain something from the tutoring session. I have been working on understanding any difficulties my students are having by being more considerate and showing them that I do understand and I do care. This new environment helps both the student and the tutor.