One on One


My classmate Zasha* fell victim to my first crack at tutoring. In a mock tutoring session for our Theory and Practice of Writing, Tutoring, and Conferencing course, Zasha and I brought each other pieces of our most recent writing.

“Why we write,” was what we wrote on.  So meta.  So personal.  We had to tutor each other for the 1000 words that explained why we were writers, and why we were taking this English class in the first place.  I don’t think half the class realized the actual weight of the project, but I surely felt it while reading and tutoring Zasha.

Theorists precaution tutors to avoid becoming therapists or “living diaries” for the students they mentor.  How was that avoidable with such a personal writing assignment? How could two girls, giddy and open-hearted from making a fresh friendship, avoid becoming anything but living diaries for each other?

Tutoring Zasha and being tutored in return exemplified the capability for a conference to become intimate.  One-on-one is a delicate interaction for any two people.  Center it around what I believe to be the most sensitive activity in academia: writing, and a one-on-one conference inevitably becomes something more.

The Zasha I read was different from the Zasha I sat next to.  Her writing was highly emotional, open, vulnerable.  Her feelings were all over the computer screen.  Zasha didn’t express this much about herself out loud.  In fact, our initial conversations were trivial and unimportant.  In writing, Zasha took on a different identity that was not light, but heavy, and not guarded, but giving.

I’m a nice person.  So I was nice.  The feeling expressed in Zasha’s writing was reciprocated by a feeling-considerate tutor.  Much as it made me squirm in my tomboy lacrosse uniform, the entire conference became a give and take of just that- Feeling.

Zasha’s emotionally-charged, raw writing was deposited into my open hands, and I was compelled to feel for her in return.  Empathy was the most memorable of those feelings.  As open as Zasha was, I tutored her with just as much careful consideration.  I was walking on eggshells.  Misstep with a wrong word of advice here, break a heart there.

The activity was freeing for Zasha, as she said.  It was a bit constraining for me.  I learned that a tutor is much more liable for her words than a student is for theirs.  It takes grace to walk the tight rope between harsh critic and caring mentor.  Nevertheless, the liberation and empowerment a good conference provides for students like Zasha make that painstaking walk worthwhile.

A problem I noticed that came from reverting the tutor to become the tutee in this mock session was that vibes from the previous conference bled into the next.  There was an emotional transaction made in the last session, and Zasha paid me back for it.  With interest.

The piece I offered was my post, “One Story,” a narrative of my adventures with high school English.  It’s unlikely that Zasha was aware of any indebtedness, personal-wise, left over from my previous review of her writing.  But maybe my writing was just that good.  I’d like to believe the latter, but just as much as I’d like to believe Zasha’s gushing praise was well-deserved.  I’m really more humble than I boast.

Zasha said I wrote things that may as well have come from her own mind.  I’ll be honest.  She made me proud of this quality, especially since my main goal writing “One Story” was to make it relatable.  She gave me more good reviews and a question or two.  I don’t remember much else of her mentorship.  We talked more about her writing from there.  By now, I was pretty good at it.

*Name has been changed.









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