First Draft: Semester in a College Writing Center

By Michael Gutgsell

When I think of the college writing center, I think of a wall of windows with warm sunlight shining on two cushy couches, a small desk, and a kettle. It was the quietest part of campus for me, and it relaxed me walking into this cozy room with a plate of cookies on the table, a Google calendar open on the computer, and a peaceful couple hours to read or do homework until someone came in.

I was so nervous the first few shifts, certain that I would come across as awkward and stupid, but to my surprise, I loved going over people’s papers with them, and it wasn’t difficult. They would sit down on the couch across from me, the two of us holding a copy of their essay or story, and I’d ask them to read over their work. Many times they hadn’t proofread what they’d written, and reading aloud helped them catch the small typos or fumbling sentences. We’d then talk in more detail about structure, identifying what it was they wanted to get across and how to make that more clear. Every person and paper was different, and so it was constantly stimulating.

I was paid ten dollars an hour, and I thought that was good money. It was a job I had been actually nominated for, and it required a semester-long course to prepare. My classmates in that course were some of the quickest-thinking, intelligent people in the English department, and it was exciting to be around them. Our professor was passionate, and believed in us with such fervor, it was impossible not to be swept along in his enthusiasm. Here was someone who believed in us.

I looked forward to my time in the quiet, sunny room of the writing center. I enjoyed scheduling appointments; I loved working on a paper with classmates I’d never met. I helped arrange the paragraphs to tell the history of pornography with one student (an ambitious project!), met outside with a friend on the patio of a school cafe to discuss her essay for a literature survey course she was having trouble understanding, and talked to a great tall basketball player who I’d never spoken to, and from then on we’d nod at each other every time we passed. At a time when I was taking those quizzes at the career development office to tell me what I should pursue, I was doing what I wanted to do. In between the shuffle of waiting tables, doing homework, acting in school plays, and a long-distance relationship, the writing center was a quiet moment of cerebral pleasure.

For that one semester, I had a job I really liked, a job I was good at and suited for. I can’t think of anything I didn’t like about it. The best part was having a supervisor who really believed in us, supported us, and prepared us to handle much more than we would encounter. He was excited by learning, and that was contagious. The writing center helped tutors and tutees develop, and didn’t take advantage of anyone. I didn’t know that would feel unusual, that it would stand apart when looking back over six years of working.

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Michael Gutgsell is a regular writer for Tumbleweed Diaries. You can read more of him on his weekly blog, Making a Mess of It, or on the blog for Tree House Humane Society, the no-kill stray cat shelter where he works.

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