Help me help you: Part I

My job at the writing center is, for the most part, very enjoyable. In my opinion, I get to share with other students two of my favorite things – literature and rhetoric.

This is what a typical rough draft looks like when a student comes in:

Yay for neatness!

This is what it looks like after I’ve marked it for errors:

Don't worry, I don't use red ink in real life!

Now, we come to the magic of the writing center. I gave you the key to success but you have to use it. You go home, sit in front of you little computer, and you make the changes I marked on your draft. So if I see your final draft and I notice that I am marking the same errors, you make me upset.

Or, at least, you are not right. Either way...

You know, it takes a lot of courage for me to mark your mistakes. Sometimes, out of pity for you, I want to let your errors slide. I am a student too so I know how hard it is to hear that your work isn’t quite good enough. But I show your mistakes to you because I know you deserve more than a C on that paper, because I feel that in allowing you to make a mistake, I make a mistake myself. It’s not easy for me to tell you that you have problems in comprehension, sentence construction and complexity, punctuation, and subject-verb agreement, but I tell you because I care.

And what do I get?


Student was deliberately depicted as androgynous.

That’s because the professor probably assumed that whatever work you showed was going to undergo some kind of revision.

This is what happened to me last Monday. The student that I’ve been seeing on a regular basis refused to make the changes I suggested. Out of frustration, I talked to our manager. She told me something I figured out a few months ago.

We’re like doctors. It’s our job to prescribe the medicine. But at the end of the day, if the person won’t take the pill, there’s nothing we can do about it.

Wow. I was speechless. What I wanted was advice on how to convince my student to follow my advice. What I got instead was advice, essentially, to distance myself from my job since, as it turns out, none of it is ever under my control.

So, now, an appeal:

I mean it.

If you’re not convinced that I am giving you the right advice, tell me, argue with me.

Admit that there is a reason why you are even seeking help with your writing. Admit also that by refusing the help given to you, you might as well not have sought that help at all.

Don’t put me in a power play situation. If you are asking your professor for help, don’t ask for mine. I can’t win in a situation like that. If I tell you that you can do a better job with your writing, I’m the bad guy, and if I tell you that you did an awesome job and your professor says you didn’t, I’m the bad guy. Spare me the agony… Or else I won’t help you anymore.

Which is what I did with this one student. But that’s another entry.


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